The angel prophesied to Zachariah that the son whom God would miraculously give him and Elizabeth shall have an extraordinary mission: “He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will … prepare a people fit for the Lord.” (Lk 1:16-17) John the Baptist is revered by the church because of his role in preparing the way for the long-awaited messiah – to lead not a political revolution, but a spiritual rebirth. John also prepared the hearts of his own disciples to recognize the One sent by God, and to freely leave him behind and run to Jesus when the time was right.
John was a fearless man who spoke the truth – and it cost him his life. When John was in prison, he sent his disciples to Jesus. Matthew tells us: “As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed, swaying in the wind...? Well, what did you go out to see? A prophet…?” (Mt 11:7-9) Jesus was asking them to reflect on their expectations, because so often what we see depends on what we expect. False expectations often limit our ability to discern the truth. Many a prophet is written off before his/her words are ever heard.
When John paid the ultimate price for speaking the truth to the powerful, Jesus mourned. He retreated to a desolate place to allow God to speak to his broken heart and lead him forward. (Mt 14:13) It was a deeply personal loss for him – this was the man who had baptized Jesus. He was the instrument through whom the Spirit of God had “presented” Jesus to the world, saying: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:17)
In many ways, John’s style was in marked contrast to Jesus’ gentler manner of speaking and unmasking the sinfulness around him. Yet Jesus knew that the work of evil in this world needed to be confronted honestly and fearlessly, and both approaches were valid. John’s senseless murder epitomized the helplessness of good people to break the stranglehold of evil. Recognizing this, Jesus needed time away with his Father, where his heart could be immersed in God’s vision of reality. God can take even what appears irredeemable and re-create the possibility for good to emerge, for his Will to be done…
There are times when it is obvious that evil is at work in our world, and may even have the appearance of “winning”. We know that God is not impotent, and our hope may be to see God part this Red Sea and prove his power in the sight of his foes… It might then be frightening to see evil gaining ground. Yet it is only when we trust God and allow him to reveal his perspective of the lie, when we take God’s hand and walk with him through the fire, that we can arrive at the place of Resurrection, where God’s Omnipotence is always to be found… Paul came to understand that “the weakness of God is stronger than human strength, and the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.” (1 Cor 1:25) Every saint who ever lived came to know this truth deep in their being, and both Jesus and John lived and died revealing this truth. It is best to wait until the end to see who the “winner” really is…
-Sr. Patrice Yarborough
Sisters of St. Mary of Namur . 241 Lafayette Avenue . Buffalo, New York 14213 . (716) 884-8221