Willing to be a Forerunner

First Reading: (Is 40:1-5,9-11): The prophet preached the good new to the Israelites
Second Reading:(2 Pet 3:8-14): The Apostles encouraged the faithful to live holy and devoted lives to wait for the Lord
Gospel: (Mk 1:1-8): The mission of John the Baptist
Chinese Classics: “In golden threads she weaves her bitter despair, Year after year making bridal robes which other girls wear.”(1)

The first verse of Mark's gospel is “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The 'Gospel' is not a book, it is 'Good News', 'Good tidings.' It tells us about an "Event." There is good news to tell. An exciting event has just taken place.

This good news is about Jesus Christ. He himself IS the good news. He is going to share this good news with us, to share HIMSELF with us.

Why did Jesus want to speak about himself to us? Because he is the Son of God, because he is the unique one expected for so many years in the Old Testament. He is the great prophet, a loyal Israelite. He is the son of Yahweh, with a close relationship with Yahweh. He is completely loyal to Yahweh, totally carrying out the will of his Father throughout his life.

Jesus is the Son of God, God the Father is the center of his life. A life with God at the center itself is good news. When people accept God as the center of life, then God will be king in their hearts. They will be saved, their lives will be fulfilled. This is the greatest good news anyone can hear.

When a person is obedient to God as Jesus was, life has reached its climax. Jesus' good news becomes that person's good news. Those Christians themselves also will have become good news.

To prepare humankind to receive the joy of this good news, God sent a forerunner, a herald, John the Baptist.

The Prophet Isaiah had predicted “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Mk 1: 2-3 ; see also Is 40:3 ; Mal 3:1)

And so John came. He “appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mk 1:4-5) John said to his disciples, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” (Mk 1:7)

John baptized people in the desert regions. He had many followers, people who admired him. He was a great Master of his time. He could have enhanced his own reputation, strengthened his own fame, set up a kingdom and extended its boundaries, and sought his own advantage.

But he was willing to be just a forerunner.

This forerunner was a man with an esteemed reputation. He had many disciples. He attracted many people who admired him for his virtue, personality and lifestyle.

Most of us never have thought of being only a forerunner. Our culture and education teach us to strive to be main characters. Only when this fails are we forced to be forerunners.

For example, in our society when there is a political campaign, the most important aim of the candidates is to win over opponents. In our schools, teachers teach us to strive for the highest honors. Ancient scholars in China “studied for 10 years” under extremely severe conditions just to take part in the imperial examination and become a government official. Only then could they return home full of honor and glory.

All this teaches us to be self-centered, to concentrate totally on ourselves. We want to be main characters, enjoy the praise of others, accept other peoples’ cheers and applause.

We do not live in a culture that fosters becoming forerunners. We have rarely seen examples of people who want to be forerunners

On the contrary, we think that “In golden threads she weaves her bitter despair, Year after year making bridal robes which other girls wear”(2) is a kind of misery and misfortune. To be in such a situation makes one sigh with helplessness.

A forerunner or bridesmaid is precisely the one who “makes bridal robes which other girls wear”. After making the most beautiful bridal robe, she is not fortunate enough to wear the bridal robe. All she can do is help someone else put it on. (Qin Taoyu, A Poor Girl)(3)

Of course, there are exceptions. Parents are comforted by seeing their children growing up. Teachers feel honored by the success of their students. Both parents and teachers take on the role of forerunners. They play a role in bringing their children or students to the forefront and on the stage, and are happy and content to forfeit the center stage themselves to witness the results of their efforts for others.

Jealousy can cause us to see another's success as one's own failure. But the spirit of a forerunner enables one to be happy at the success of others and be filled with gratitude, because this can fill up our inadequacies and accomplish what we can't do ourselves.

For the glory of God, for the good of all people, of our society and nation, we need more people willing to be forerunners, to lead more people to contribute their talents for the good of others. Such persons' accomplishments are of benefit to all of us.

It is worthwhile indeed for us to be forerunners.

(1) 中國文化: 苦恨年年壓金線,為他人作嫁衣裳。
(2) 「苦恨年年壓金線,為他人作嫁衣裳」
(3) 前驅,也就是「為他人作嫁衣裳」,是在造了最漂亮的嫁衣裳以後,自己卻無緣身披嫁衣,只是把它披在別人的身上。