John the Baptist spoke Truth to power, preparing the world for the coming of Truth. He held nothing back, not even from the Tetrarch of Galilee, Herod Antipas, who married his brother's wife, Herodias. He railed at members of the religious establishment, denouncing their hypocrisy and sense of entitlement, puncturing their egos with his words... And John the Baptist's head ended up on a platter...
Today, in the United States, we find ourselves in a world sadly lacking in prophets. Protective of their careers, lifestyles, and social advantages, people in "high places" have failed to speak Truth to power, Instead, they have participated in wild conspiracy theories, attempted to de-rail the presidential election, denied the seriousness of COVID-19, stoked up rage, and fomented violence. Terrifying as the pandemic is, the distortion of Truth has become more dangerous than any other threat to national security. Lies beget lies, pitting one half of the country against the other while COVID-19 spirals out of control.
Truth-speakers have been threatened, harassed, and ridiculed; some have lost their jobs, including doctors and researchers who tried to warn the nation about rising COVID-19 death rates and infections. Meanwhile, lies continue to proliferate, with many believing what they want to believe rather than what
As Christians, each of us was called to be a prophet at our baptism, and to live in the Spirit of Truth. Today and every day, Christ, the Light of the World, invites us out of darkness and into Truth. May each of us respond to this call, regardless of the price.
And this is the testimony of John.
When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests
and Levites to him to ask him, “Who are you?”
He admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, “I am not the Christ.”
So they asked him,
“What are you then? Are you Elijah?”
And he said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
So they said to him, “Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?”
He said: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,’” as Isaiah the prophet said.”
When John the Baptist appeared in the Judean desert, preaching repentance and announcing that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand, he attracted attention. Despite his wild appearance, the crowds flocked to him, drawn by the fear and hope of things to come. Though he ministered outside the usual religious parameters of Temple and synagogue, the crowds trusted him, believing his message. To them, he was a credible teacher, a prophet through whom the Word of God resounded. His voice was God's voice, echoing in their spiritual aridity, calling them back to life as surely as the vision of Ezekiel called the House of Israel back to life in the Valley of Dry Bones (Ezk 37). His fiery rhetoric forced them to confront their sinfulness, but at the same time, he offered them healing waters whereby they could be cleansed of their sins. Even more importantly, he prophesied the coming of the Holy One who would baptize with Spirit and fire -- in other words, One who would lead them into a higher level of consciousness and deeper intimacy with God.
If the crowds were fascinated by John the Baptist and his teachings, the religious authorities were disturbed. While they held court in Jerusalem, John was content to minister in the wilderness. No doubt his popularity was a threat to the priestly class that controlled public ritual, the interpretation of the Torah, and the enforcement of the Law. After all, if the crowds were gathering at the Jordan, they were hardly going to be offering sacrifice in the Temple; neither were they purchasing animals for sacrifice nor making offerings to the Temple treasury. John's ministry, then, was subverting the authority of the religious establishment, as well as diminishing the income on which it depended. No doubt this is why a contingent of priests and Levites traveled to the Jordan's edge to investigate who he was and where he had come from.
If they had expected answers, they left disappointed. John the Baptist dressed like the prophet Elijah (2 Kgs 1:8) but denied being Elijah; he railed against sin, injustice, hypocrisy, but denied being the prophet Moses; he preached repentance but denied being the Messiah. Instead, he quoted Isaiah: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,’” as Isaiah the prophet said" (Jn 1:28).
Two thousand years later, each of us has the same mission: to testify to the Light in a world darkened by sin and ignorance, to live by that Light, and to be transformed by its radiance.
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