|Icon of St. John the Baptist|
The truth is that today the Word of God comes to us.
We have two options: we can keep this Sunday’s gospel (Lk. 3:1-6) at a comfortable distance by thinking, “Oh, ‘in the reign of Tiberius Caesar‘ that is in the past. Nice story.” or we can catch what Luke the evangelist is actually doing in his litany of specific names and titles. For Luke the “word” is not some vague spiritual idea or inspiring myth. No, the “word” is in fact a historical reality that “comes down” into the affairs of human nations and times and even into the stuff and routine of our daily lives. The “word” chooses to be specific and to enter into particular times and places. …the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.
John welcomed the word in the desert we are told. Again, we cannot be comfortable here. The desert is not some far off place on another continent with an exotic sounding name. Despite the noise and amusements we are, in fact, right in the middle of the desert of our times where life is not truly lived nor joy truly found. Elsewhere in the scriptures we are told that Herod was hateful of John’s denunciations of his actions yet, at the same time, drawn to his words. John, I think, was such a compelling figure for the ruler precisely because he was able to do what Herod was not. John recognized the desert of his time and because of that he was able to live his life not lost in an endless series of amusements but rather authentically and fully. John truly lived his life and he truly knew joy.
How did he do this and how might we? Three lessons for us: poverty, humility and hospitality.
John was a poor man and he accepted his poverty. We know that materially John had nothing (wearing only a camel-skin and a belt) but even more so John accepted the poverty of letting go of the myth of self-sufficiency. John, in the depth of very being made a soul-searching inventory, and accepted the truth of dependence upon God in both its bitterness and sweetness. We are told that John survived on locust and wild honey. Because of his poverty, John is free. Herod is not free.
John knew the joy of humility. He does not need the illusion of the “royal palace” in whatever shape it may come and he cautions and chastises those who cluster around the palaces of our world. John, in contrast to the false pride of our world, would be very comfortable (I think) with the saying, “Christian, remember your dignity.” The school of humility leads one away from false pride yet it also leads one back to true pride. We are children of Abraham, we are sons and daughters of the Father and even as we are not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal (Jn. 1:27) we are abundantly and immensely loved by our Lord and Savior! Humility overcomes false pride because humility leads one to put trust in the Lord and the Lord alone. Humility leads to joy.
When the “word” came to John he welcomed it. God loves us too much to let us remain comfortable and content in the false illusions of the desert of our world. One way or another God is coming to us. The key is to not fear but to welcome, to be hospitable. What a great thing it is to have God come to us and to seek entrance into our hearts. When we welcome Christ into our hearts then Christ will make his dwelling there and make of our own hearts a place of welcome for others.
This, I think, is the surest “proof” if something is from God or not. Is our heart becoming a place of welcome and hospitality for others or not? Through his poverty and humility John did not become severe and distant. Rather, the opposite. If one reads further in this third chapter of Luke (and it will be proclaimed next Sunday), John knew the struggle and hardships of people and when the people asked the prophet what they should do he responded by keeping it simple. Be good people, seek to do what is right and just, care for one another and recognize the coming of the Kingdom of God. John’s heart was anything but distant and cold.
John’s heart was a place of welcome and hospitality because he, himself, had welcomed the Word of God.