In my beginning is my end. –T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets: “East Coker”
St. John the Baptist’s origin and vocation, as recorded in the beginning of the fourth gospel, provides hints of his destiny. In his beginning is his end. The fourth gospel declares that John’s vocation is “to bear witness” to the Messiah. Within the gospel’s poetic prologue John’s raison d’être is revealed: “there was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony (martyrian), to bear witness (martyrese) to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness (martyrese) to the light” (Jn 1:6-8). The original Greek words highlight the fact that John’s entire life is to bear witness to Christ. It also foretells the way he will give his final witness—martyrdom.
As one meditates on the scenes of John’s life, it is evident everything in his life points to Christ. In a noted homily, St. Bede the Venerable asserts, “through his birth, preaching and baptizing, [John] bore witness to the coming birth, preaching and baptism of Christ, and by his own suffering he showed that Christ also would suffer.” The reference point for an interpretation of John’s actions is to look to Jesus. From his mother’s womb to the final shedding of his blood in martyrdom, John’s entire life is oriented towards Christ.