Some authors write best sellers, while others write books that end up for sale at the dollar store.
Some songwriters compose songs that are downloaded millions of times and become Grammy winners, while others produce music that no one remembers.
Some painters produce works of art that are collected and hung in galleries, while the creations of other artists end up on tables at garage sales.

Why is it that some people become successes in their profession, and others do not? We might conclude that those who succeed are those with the most talent. Yet, we all know of talented people who never make it big.

The key to success is not just talent. People who succeed are those whose works appeal to the public. An author, for example, might write a story that is grammatically and technically correct, but if that story has no mass appeal, that author will fail. The opposite is equally true. If people like what they read, that author succeeds, despite any critical reviews.

In Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 3:1-12), we hear of a person who was a great success as a preacher. We are told that “at that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him.” John the Baptist obviously had mass appeal.

Yet it seems surprising that a preacher whose main message was repentance and a public acknowledgment of one’s sinfulness would be attracting large crowds. In our day, a preacher with such a message would see many empty pews before him.

There had to be something in the message of John the Baptist that appealed to the public. There had to be something in his words that made people leave their homes and go out to him in great numbers. That something was hope – hope that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. The power of God was breaking into this world and the one who embodied that power and presence of God was about to appear.

Now was the time for people to repent and to turn away from those behaviors, those attitudes, those ways of thinking, those relationships that would keep them from welcoming the one who would usher in this time of hope and transformation.

That hopeful time is poetically described in Sunday’s First Reading (Isaiah 11:1-10). It would be a time when “the cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea.”

Whose attention would not be caught by such a hopeful message of peace and harmony? Who would not want to be ready to welcome the one predicted by John who would bring the power of the Holy Spirit and the fire of God’s love into this troubled world?

Yes, John was a successful preacher because he had a message that the crowds wanted to hear – a message of hope, harmony, and peace. His message truly had mass appeal. So much so that we are still coming to hear it today.

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski