The gospel puts us in the presence of the prophet John the Baptist. Many come to him to be baptized and convert, others ask him: who are you?
If John answers then easily and clearly to the priests’ and pharisees’ questions, it is by having thought about them long before. Their questions were his own. In silence and solitude past, had he not considered himself the Messiah, or Elijah, or even Moses? Quite likely. But as a man of the desert, he casts away these possible identities. His own prophecy is not a repeat of those of Moses and Elijah, and does not announce himself as the Messiah. No, but it brings forth two clear distinctions between him and He who comes.
Their distinction is first manifested in ignorance. The one to come is in fact already there, but John has yet to learn who he is. He feels his presence, and professes his joy, but doesn’t know his identity.
Their distinction is then made manifest in a strange confession: I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal. Is it said to display an overabundance of humility? No, but to prophesize in earnest.
Who would untie the thong of that sandal? It is the duty of a servant. However, John the Baptist is not a servant of Christ. He is instead the one crying in the wilderness, which allows him to see, feel and hear what eludes others. Therefore, I think that there is prophecy at the root of his words. I believe that John announces no only the Messiah to come, but also the Messiah who serves, the only one who can untie the thong of that sandal, as Jesus did during the Last Supper by washing the feet of his apostles.
Our commitment in the Order of Saint Lazarus compels us to follow the example of the Servant Messiah. Our current circumstances and sanitary rules might momentarily impair our action, but the coming times will requires considerable efforts, in healthcare, in education and also in psychological healthcare – as many suffer of the isolation and distress caused by this pandemic. At the origins of the Order of Saint Lazarus is a struggle against leprosy, an illness strangely similar to Covid. In an insidious manner, it leads us to fear the people around us, the people we love. It traps us in isolation and quarantine. Once the vaccine will be at hand, let us take on the task to heal not only the body, but the spirit and the soul of those who suffered, especially our elders deeply affected by this terrible crisis. And let us not forget the children whose education has been heavily impacted.
Much like Christ who unties the thongs of his disciples’ sandals to carry his service, might we be called by this modern leprosy to be creative in our own ways to embody the prophecy of Jean the Baptist. It is at heart the very charisma of our Order.