76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
   for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
   by the forgiveness of their sins. 

It is an interesting expression, “the Most High.” Actually, in the Greek, it is not an expression. There is only one word, “hypsistos”; it means “highest”. John is going to be “the prophet of the highest”. Since we know the story, we understand that this “highest” is a reference to Jesus.

What does it mean to say that Jesus is the “highest”?

It means that those characteristics, those qualities, that Jesus embodied are the height of the human condition. When we look at the person Jesus became, we see what it means to be truly and deeply human.

In all the years I have read and reflected upon the life and teaching of Jesus, it has come to seem to me that Paul captured the essence of the man whose birth we celebrate at this time of year, when he wrote in 2 Corinthians that, “I myself, Paul, appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:1). Paul seldom wasted words, so, it is odd that he comes close to engaging in a redundancy here. In the Greek the two words translated “meekness” and “gentleness” are almost the same word. Paul refers here to the “gentleness” and “gentleness” of Christ.

Gentleness is evident in so many places in Jesus’ life.  Jesus said of himself, “I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29).

When Matthew sought to describe Jesus, he reached back into Hebrew tradition quoting the prophet Isaiah who said, “He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick” (Matthew 12:20).  He is gentle with broken things. He never seeks to extinguish the light in anyone, be it ever-so dimly flickering.

So, it appears that, in the strange kingdom this nativity story portrays, the “highest” is not the one with the biggest army or the greatest material wealth. The “highest” is not the one upon whom the world showers glamour, fame, or prestige. The “highest” is the most “gentle”.

I wonder what it is in my life that keeps me from valuing this Jesus-quality of gentleness as the “highest” quality to which I might aspire.


Today I will notice the opportunities I have to open to gentleness. I will watch any temptation to retreat from this central quality in Jesus’ life.

(Bernardino Zenale 1456-1526 John the Baptist)