What Did You Go Out to the Desert to See?

Icon of St. John the Baptist, the Angel of the Desert (Stroganov School, 1620s). Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent

When the messengers of John had left, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John. “What did you go out to the desert to see—a reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine garments? Those who dress luxuriously and live sumptuously are found in royal palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom scripture says:

‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
he will prepare your way before you.’

I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (All the people who listened, including the tax collectors, and who were baptized with the baptism of John, acknowledged the righteousness of God; but the Pharisees and scholars of the law, who were not baptized by him, rejected the plan of God for themselves.)

Luke 7:24-30

“What did you go out to the desert to see?” Jesus’ question forced the crowds to ask themselves what allured them to leave their towns in search of John the Baptist. “A reed swayed by the wind?” There were plenty of wavering reeds in the towns and cities—unstable politicians placating one another in pursuit of power. “Someone dressed in fine garments?” John in his camel’s hair stood in stark opposition to the sumptuous Herod Antipas whose marital status he opposed. “A prophet?”

Jesus read the hearts of the people, “Yes!” The voice in the wilderness calling for repentance and fidelity to God drew the multitudes surfeited with the mediocrity of fading fashions. 

Suffering in prison now for his own fidelity to God, the greatest of the prophets had yet to see the kingdom of God opened. As the Forerunner of the Messiah, John served as the bridge between the old and new covenants. The “least in the kingdom of God,” still closed to the children of Adam, were the angels and Christ himself. 

The voice of the messenger prepared the sheep of Christ’s flock to return to the Good Shepherd. Even tax collectors, among the most hardened and ostracized by the Jewish community, recognized the voice of God. Religious leaders, later called by Jesus “wolves,” refused the baptism of John and “rejected the plan of God for themselves.” 

From the green pastures of the Lord, the flock sings with the Psalmist:

I will praise you, Lord,
for you have rescued me.

Responsorial Psalm 30:2(1)

2 Replies to “What Did You Go Out to the Desert to See?”

  1. “A reed swayed by the wind?”
    We see plenty of wavering reeds today.
    Unstable politicians placating the media,
    Repeating talking points given to say.
    Following those in pursuit of power.
    “Someone dressed in fine garments?”
    Clothed in hypocrisy, hiding truth.
    Who will stand in stark opposition?
    Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    renew a steadfast spirit within me.
    Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.

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