John the Baptist's life-mission

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist

Luke tells us that once while Zechariah was fulfilling his priestly function in the temple, an angel appeared to him and told him that his wife Elizabeth was going to give birth to a son who was to be named John. The angel added, “… He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God (and)… will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah … to prepare a people fit for the Lord” (Lk. 1:13–17). We know what followed this apparition. For questioning the angel's words, Zechariah was turned into a mute.

It was precisely because of the angel's words that when the time for John to be circumcised and be given a name, a discussion among the relatives and neighbors ensued (Lk. 1:57–66.80). It was settled when Elizabeth and Zechariah — being mute,in writing — insisted that his name would be John.

Unlike in the case of Jesus when Luke focused the spotlight on His birth, in the case of John, his birth was made secondary to his naming. This was because of the life–mission he would carry out. What mission? In the words of the angel: “He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah … to prepare a people fit for the Lord”; or in the words of Isaiah: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Lk.3:5-6). Isaiah's “way” or “road” metaphor for John's mission will help us to prepare ourselves to be “fit for the Lord.”

Long before Isaiah's time, when a king intended to tour his dominions, he sent couriers to tell the people to prepare the roads on which he would pass. Obviously, John was not referring to a physical but to his and our spiritual preparation “to turn to the Lord.” What then are our “valleys to be filled,” “mountains and hills to be made low,” “winding roads to be made straight,” and “rough ways to be made smooth?”

Valleys to be filled. What are our low–lying areas? Do we stand on solid spiritual grounds? Or are we so anchorless, so down and out that we move from one frustration to another with no hope for the future? Do we live in trust or are we always suspicious of others? Seeing how morally bankrupt we are, do we live in self–pity, saying, “Others just do not care about me” or just give up on ourselves altogether, saying, “There is nothing I can do to help myself?”

Mountains and hills to be made low. Do we not find it enjoyable to talk about our successes but squirm when things that really matter are brought up such as being fair in our dealings with others or helping a neighbor in need? Are we contemptuous of those who do not meet “our standards?” In our homes, do we not give our feelings and opinions the highest priority and refuse to understand those of our parents, spouses or siblings? When someone gets in trouble specially of his own making, do we not find it easy to say, “He deserves what he gets!,” instead of spending time and effort to help him straighten out his life?

Winding roads to be made straight. Are we swayed by the latest trends, not only in fashion but also in our moral behavior? Do we follow the line of least resistance instead of standing up to our principles? When we have a quarrel with someone, do we not find it easier to avoid him or to put him down before others instead of going straight to him with respect and effect a reconciliation?

Rough ways to be made smooth. Do we exert efforts to be genuinely nice to others or we just do not care if our rough ways hurt other people? Do we find ourselves always talking about love but not taking steps to make ourselves more lovable? Do we even make ourselves less lovable by habitually engaging in all kinds of vices like alcohol, drugs or gossip?

From the preceding, it is obvious that there are many rough edges in our own life–“road” and thus we can learn much from John.

Before God's word came to John, he spent time in the desert to pray. Then only could he tell what other people should do: soldiers not to extort, those with two cloaks to give one away and tax collectors to collect only what was prescribed. We also need some kind of a desert experience, a time of intense prayer, if the word of God is to come to us to set our own life–“road” straight.

Finally, for our rough edges to be made smooth, let us avail of John's message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This because God's grace will be effective in us only if we repent and change for the better.

If we respond to John's invitation to prayer and repentance, then his life–goal, namely, “All flesh shall see the salvation of God,” will be realized in us, too.