Reflections from the Gospel reading for today: Mark 1:1-8 – “John the Baptist prepares the Way.”
A child of the desert, John grew up and lived as a hermit in the Judean wilderness, eating a diet of locusts and wild honey, and clad in camel hair clothing – details which may be reflective of strict commitments to Nazarite law (Matthew 3:4). In his late twenties John left and began his ministry preaching by the Jordan River, yet the wilderness of Judea remained a definitive aspect of John’s identity. In John 1:23, when the Pharisees asked him who he was, he answered with the language of Isaiah, saying: “I am ‘the voice of one crying out in the desert,
Make straight the way of the Lord.”
Throughout Scripture, John is referred to as the one who “prepares the way of the Lord,” (Malachi 3:1, Mark 1:1-5, Luke 3:4 and 7:27). Isaiah 40:3 prophesies the coming of John saying, “A voice proclaims: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” Later, Matthew 3:3 and 11:30 makes clear that John was the man foretold in the prophecy.
Central to John’s message was a theme of repentance – a key aspect of his mission of “preparing the way” for Jesus. He baptized countless individuals in the Jordan which was a reflection of their decisions to repent and start a new life in Christ. Crowds of people flocked to hear John exhort individuals to abandon their selfish ways. In particular, John criticized the ruler of Galilee, Herod Antipas for his marriage to Herodias, the wife of his half-brother.
This boldness in censuring the king ultimately cost John the Baptist his life. Herod imprisoned John for his polemics, and eventually, at the request of his daughter Salome, ordered John’s execution. However, the living power of Christ’s message and John’s legacy as a messenger could not be snuffed out. This Feast Day, let us take a moment to remember the ministry and message of repentance and selflessness from John’s life and reflect it in our own: