The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Picture: cc JoeInSouthernCA
Sisters and brothers, have you ever found yourself having a conversation with someone who was getting a little too nosy? Or, as we like to say, here in Singapore, a bit too kay poh? Let’s say, for example, that the person asks you about your occupation, then goes on to probe into your salary, or your family situation , or even your love life. What do you do? How do you respond? How do you remain polite and friendly, while still preserving your privacy? It’s a rather delicate situation, isn’t it? But only for adults. For kids, it’s usually much simpler. I remember, when I was still in primary school, I learned a very direct and effective way for dealing with over-inquisitive people. When someone began to ask you more questions than you cared to answer, all you had to do was to say to them, MYOB. Mind your own business.
Mind your own business. This is very helpful advice. Not just for those who pry into the private concerns of others. But also for busybodies of all kinds, including those who literally keep their bodies perpetually busy. People whose lives are crammed with many different activities. Of course, it’s not always a bad thing to be busy. Just as it’s not always a bad thing to get involved in the affairs of others. As Christians, we all have a duty to care for one another, especially for those who may need our help in some way. People near at hand, as well as those faraway.
But haven’t we also encountered people, who seem to be so busy with other people’s affairs, that they have no time or energy to fulfil their own proper responsibilities? Duties that no one else would look after if they did not? We might think, for example, of a hyperactive churchgoer. A person who serves on a whole string of ministries and committees in the parish. But who doesn’t seem to devote any significant amount of quality time to his or her spouse or children. Indeed, isn’t it true that sometimes, whether they realise it are not, people like that occupy themselves with parish business precisely in order to escape from problematic home environments? If this is the case, then what should we say to them? Should we continue to encourage their busyness? After all, the parish does need their help. Or should we not rather help them to appreciate the importance of MYOB? Minding your own business.
The importance of minding your own business. I believe that this is also what our readings are teaching us on this solemn feast of the Birth of John the Baptist. In the first reading, taken from one of the servant songs of Isaiah, we find someone who is finally discovering his own vocation. For a long time, although he has been busy with various things, this servant of the Lord has been experiencing a sense of futility. I was thinking, he says, I have toiled in vain, I have exhausted myself for nothing. But now, God reveals to him what he is supposed to do. His proper calling is to be a light to the nations so that God’s salvation might reach the ends of the earth. With this knowledge the servant can finally focus his efforts on what God wants him to do. He now knows how go about minding his own (God-given) business.
We find something similar in the experience of John the Baptist. We all know that John was totally committed to doing God’s work. Even to the extent of laying down his life. And yet, as committed as John was, he did not set out to do everything. He knew quite well the particular role he was called to play. As the second reading tells us, John knew that he was not the Messiah. I am not the one you imagine me to be, he says, that one is coming after me and I am not fit to undo his sandal. And it is precisely this humility and clarity of purpose that allow him to focus his efforts on the particular task given to him by God. In other words, John knows how to mind his own business.
This clarity of purpose that we find in John, we find also in his parents, Anne and Zechariah. The custom at that time was for the son to be named after someone in the family, and to take up his father’s occupation. But it is somehow revealed to Anne and Zechariah that God has other plans for their newborn son. His name is not to be Zechariah, but John. A name which means graced by God. The parents realise that God has set apart their child for a particular purpose. Instead of taking after his father, he is to follow in the footsteps of the prophets of old. He is to welcome the Word of God, and to proclaim Him to the people. By choosing to name their child John, Anne and Zechariah were helping him to follow God’s call. They were allowing him to focus on his assigned mission. They were teaching him to mind his own business.
But in order to truly mind our own business, we have first to discover it. How do we do that? How do we find out what God wants us to do? Our readings tell us two things that may help us. First, we’re assured that God calls us even from our mother’s womb. And, second, that God trains and moulds the one who is called. He made my mouth a sharp sword, the first reading tells us, and hid me in the shadow of his hand. He made me into a sharpened arrow, and concealed me in his quiver. If all this is true, then one good way to discover our calling is for us to review the course of our life. To look back on the experiences we’ve had, the successes and the failures, the joys and the sorrows, the lights and the shadows. To consider the desires that have moved us, as well as the fears that have held us back. And to ask God to reveal to us how, through all these different experiences, God may have been shaping us for a particular purpose.
Sisters and brothers, in the Vineyard of the Lord there are many things that need to be done. Many items of business that need looking after. Thankfully, God doesn’t expect us to accomplish all of them on our own. We are only expected to do what God has been calling and training us to do.
Sisters and brothers, the question we need to ask ourselves is how ready am I to do what I am meant to do? Nothing more, and nothing less. How ready am I to mind my own God-given business today?