A Voice in the Desert Draws Outcasts

Icon of St. John the Baptist (Macedonia, 14th century)

Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.

Matthew 21:28-32

The rejection of Jesus by the religious establishment began with resistance to John the Baptist. Like Jesus, John did not fit in with the mainstream religious communities. Clothed in camel’s hair girt with a leather belt, John emerged from the desert radiant with ascetical purity. Subsisting on locusts and wild honey downed with water, wine never touched his lips or intoxicated his mind. Enraptured with the kingdom of God alone, John was the prophet foretold by Isaiah:

A voice of one crying out in the desert,
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.”

Matthew 3:3; Isaiah 40:3

John’s otherworldly bearing and magnetic simplicity drew religious outcasts like tax collectors and prostitutes. Where the temple and synagogue failed to convert the fringe, John’s lone, pure voice awakened them to repentance. 

Like the first son, the riffraff rebelled against the Father but obeyed after a change of heart. The religious leaders, like the second son, habitually said “yes” to God and his law, but did not fulfill the Father’s will. John’s message of contrition and charity reinforced the law and the prophets:

You have been told, O mortal, what is good,
and what the Lord requires of you:
Only to do justice and to love goodness,
and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

Indifference to the Forerunner degenerated into hatred for the “Lamb of God” heralded by the Angel of the Desert. The long-haired prophet and the poor carpenter from Nazareth were beacons of light and truth in the dark alleys, but inconvenient rivals in respectable religious institutions.

One Reply to “A Voice in the Desert Draws Outcasts”

  1. Dear GMC, Your reflection reminds me of the words of Pope Francis: “Jesus offers people who have made mistakes the hope of a new life, a life marked by love.” Thank you, GMC, for your reflection that gives us the words of contrition and charity that can transform our lives.

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