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John the Baptist ate locusts and wild honey, wore camel’s hair and a leather belt. What does that tell us? The man is crazy? No. It tells us that he has no overhead. To understand the full implications of this, allow me to illustrate. Let’s say I am in Jerusalem “back in the day.” It is winter, and I am thinking about a nice trip to the desert to a warmer climate. This is a perfect incentive to check out what everyone is talking about; that is, that the prophet Elijah is back at the Jordan River. I am nervous about meeting a prophet because I’ve heard prophets can be fiery and harsh and severe. When I met John the Baptist, he was not like that at all. He bent down and untied the sandals on my feet. All four gospels report that John was not worthy to untie “His” sandal straps, which means that is how he baptized, that is, by untying sandal straps. He then leads me to the Jordan. It is the rainy season, and the water is moving at a dangerous flow. He holds me with his strong hands and lowers in the water. When he pulls me up from the water, I am grateful, and I tell him, “You serve me as if I am a king by untying my sandal straps. You make sure I am safe in dangerous waters with your strength. You clean me of my sins. You give me a new relationship with God. You set me on a path that will lead me to the promised land of heaven. I can’t ask for more. So, I want to give you something in gratitude.” I hand him a twenty-dollar bill for his work. He refuses. I insist. He tells me, “I can’t use it, it’s useless to me. My church is the Jordan River, so I do not need to repair a roof. My coat protects me from the sun by day. I wear a leather belt because my coat is over-sized. It is my tent at night.” I stand in awe because for the first time in human history, we see a non-profit worker who will not accept money.
Almost every non-profit organization has a development department. The development office is responsible for acknowledging gifts for tax purposes, thanking contributors, and after a few weeks, they send another letter asking for more money. When I came to St. Clement the church roof was leaking, and I needed a development office, so I pooled together a team which comprised of me and a volunteer that came every Wednesday night. We were talking, and I asked, “Maybe we should take one of those workshops to make sure we are doing it right. We went, and there was a woman gave a talk about fresh fundraising ideas. She was the development director for a symphony orchestra. She made three suggestions. “You need to have special events. For example, we have one that is called “An afternoon tea with the conductor.” Then you have to have special opportunities. We offer our benefactors a chair where they can financially support one of the musicians. The last think you need is capital campaigns. As soon as one campaign ended another one began. There is no letting up.
At the end of the talk, the volunteer asked me what I thought. I told him that I can’t do this kind of thing. It was then that I made up my mind about fundraising. Here is my strategy: Work hard. If I work very hard, God will always make sure I never go without and that I will always have what I need. The people who go to the church are wonderful, and they are not going to let the ship sink. Trust God and trust good people. This has been very successful for me. They will always be there when help is needed.
The same is true with God. If we work really hard for the kingdom, we will never have to worry about what we are to eat or what we are to wear, or about our careers. God will be there for us. Just look at John the Baptist.
Here is one last thought. Jesus said that there was no one born of woman greater than John the Baptist. Jesus also pointed out others who were considered great. It is quite a surprising list of characters. A Roman centurion said to Jesus, “I am not worthy to have You in my house all you have to do is say the word… just Your word is enough for me.” Jesus said that he had great faith. There was a public sinner who brought in a costly jar of perfumed oil and broke the jar over Jesus’ head and anointed Him as if He were a king. She was also considered great. Then there was the chief tax collector that told Jesus that he would give half of his wealth to the poor. He also joins the short list of greats. If a Roman soldier, a chief tax collector, and a repentant sinner can be great in heaven, so can we.Back to All Homilies