top of page
  • Writer's picturePhil

Roll-up! Roll-up!

The strongman at a circus

squeezed the juice from a lemon between his hands.

He then challenged the audience,

"I will offer £200 to anyone in the audience

who can squeeze another drop from this lemon.

A thin scholarly-looking woman came forward, with hardly a muscle to flesh out her puny arms - she picked up the lemon, strained hard, and managed to extract a further drop of lemon-juice.

The strongman was amazed. He paid the woman her £200, but had to ask her… "What is the secret of your strength?" "Practice," the woman answered. “I’ve even learnt how to squeeze blood out of a stone -I was Church-treasurer for thirty-two years!

ROLL UP! ROLL UP! enticed The Ring-Master

to attract an audience to the Big Top

for an evening of spectacle.

John the Baptist was, to many,

a bit of a circus-act.

People travelled miles into the most-inhospitable places imaginable,

to see and hear this strange act

set on the desert stage,

to hear outspoken denouncements

of the royal family for adultery

or of public or over-pious figures.

It was great, as long as you weren’t at the receiving end of it!

John the Baptist was “a man's man”,

bold and heroic, rough and rugged,

the wilderness his home, rocks and barrenness his abode;

a foraging diet of locusts and wild honey;

itchy clothing;

If they had been invented in those times

he’d be an “Izal” toilet-paper man,

or a Wright’s Coal Tar Soap sort of guy,

that is, if he would have masked his naturalness with anything at all!

“What did you go into the wilderness to see?” asked Jesus.

(Matthew chapter 11)

A reed swayed by the wind?

A man dressed in fine clothes?

A prophet? Yes, and more than a prophet.

……he is the Elijah who was to come.

You are like children sitting in the marketplaces

calling out to others:

“‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say,

‘He has a demon.’

The Son of Man came eating and drinking,

and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard,

a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’

But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

This circus wasn’t new…..

there had been many acts before him:

Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Malachi ….

but they'd all been booed off the stage!

……but then there was Elijah,

that other wild man of the desert.


great showman,

who could even call down

fire from heaven in the face of those who didn't worship God.

Jesus talks of John the Baptist

in the Elijah mould.

At Mass this morning we hear those familiar words:

...when supper was ended, he took the chalice;

he gave it to his disciples.....

At Passover still,

The Elijah Cup is left on the table,

awaiting Elijah’s second coming

to prepare the way

for the Messiah yet to arrive.

At that Last Supper,Jesus made a radical move.

He picked-up The Elijah Cup,

and shared it with his disciples…..

Jesus’ act said it all to his disciples,

or perhaps they still didn't quite understand what he had done?

Elijah’s been and gone;

task completed,

no longer to be awaited in Jesus’ view.

John the Baptist - New Elijah,

the warm-up act for the Messiah…..

What was the message of the wild man, John the Baptist?

“The “Top of the Bill” has yet to come!”

· John had called Herod

“that old FOX”..

· John called people to repentance,

· John challenged powers

and dominations;

· “Collect no more than your fixed rate” – John the Baptist said

to tax collectors

· Don’t take anything by force, or threaten the people by denouncing them falsely, he said to soldiers…

· Be content with your pay.

· If you have two coats,

give one to the person who has none.

· If you have food, do the same!

Mary, the Mother of Jesus

proclaimed similar sentiments

in her revolutionary song THE MAGNIFICAT.

Jesus proclaimed a similar message – and expanded on it;

just look at Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7 - The Sermon on the Mount

for a code similar to the above, and expanded.

Jesus, Top of the Bill – wants us to be Top of The Bill too!

He wants us to retell the stories…

to challenge the challengable,

to stand up for truth in the face of wrong,

To continue the magic of transforming lives…

To recount some of the lines people don’t like to hear!

You and me -



Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers

but to be fearless in facing them.

Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain,

but for the heart to conquer it.

Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved,

but hope for the patience to win freedom.

Grant me that I may not be a coward,

feeling your mercy in my success alone,

but let me find the grasp of your hand in my failure.

Rabindranath Tagore

Lord God - sometimes you call us into the wilderness

into those places where we must rely totally upon you for our survival

at other times your Spirit drives us into those places

and each time we have entered those places

we have been tempted and tested –

tempted to turn back before the time is right for turning back,

tempted to give up

before the time you have appointed for our testing

and for our growing is past.

Help us, Lord,

should this be a time in our lives when we feel alone –

a time in which we feel oppressed by evil –

help us to claim the blessings that you have prepared for us

in the middle of the wilderness –

lead us on our journey –

and bring us safely to the other side... Richard J. Fairchild

Merciful God, how many John the Baptists, how many prophets of your light, have we ignored because they were not what we were looking for? How many times have we ignored voices crying in the wilderness, "Make straight the way of the Lord." How many times have we breathed a sigh of relief, and turned our backs on your messengers, because they did not speak the message we expected to hear?

Help us hear anew the cry of those who would lead us to Christ. Tune our ears to your heralds, that we might also testify to your light.

16 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


In our anxiety, fear and uncertainty, when hearts are heavy with the load we bear, and there is no one to turn toward but you; yours is the peace that calms, the peace that comforts, the peace th


bottom of page