The theme of preparation is echoed during today’s gospel passages from last Sundays dire predictions. During the era of Noah’s life men and women lived carefree lives and they were caught unaware and were swept away by the flood. Field workers are taken and women grinding grain into flour vanish; all unaware, unprepared.
John the Baptist is clearing a path, the same path of which Isaiah prophesied. John’s prophecy is harsh, threatening, and accusing, directed towards the religious hierarchy whom he sees as hypocritical. John uses sharp, vivid, and terrifying language to describe his feelings about the Pharisees and Sadducees approaching him along the banks of the River Jordan. His manner of dealing with the religious leadership and anyone else he views as hypocritical conveys his deep anger and profound mistrust of the establishment. It is unlikely that any of these men will return to John to be baptized in the future after John’s humiliating diatribe is voiced in the presence of the local community.
Jesus forgives whereas John demands proof of repentance. Jesus sends men and women forth to live lives free of the burdens that they had placed at His feet, pleading for mercy. John is willing to exclude those he believes will not sincerely repent, whereas Jesus freely grants mercy to anyone who seeks His mercy.
As a minister of the Word I have chosen to deal with people gently and compassionately. I have listened to people unburden themselves, reassured them that they are loved, and sent them back to the community hopefully free of the troubles which had prompted them to seek assistance at St. Alphonsus. I have sat across from a minister seeking guidance and solace, only expecting to be heard, and to part company with a few kind words. Perhaps there is a time and a place for John’s method of preaching and evangelizing. During John’s and Jesus’ time life was harsh and unforgiving. Sometimes survival depended upon a dictatorial person who would swiftly correct behavior which placed an entire community in jeopardy. The World has changed and religious leaders have been encouraged to adapt ways of ministering that focus on compassion and listening.
Jesus encouraged men and women to be in relationship with Him. This holds true today. Relationship implies mutual trust, vulnerability and faith. We routinely turn over our troubles and fears to our closest confidantes, and why not Jesus? He invites us to trust Him with our burdens and darkest secrets. If we accept His invitation to trust and be vulnerable we open ourselves to grace, to be loved, to be accepted, not just for the present, but always. The invitation to be in a relationship with Jesus is always there even when we abandon the relationship because of sin or shame. We are called, loved, raised up by the One who created us and redeemed us.
John the Baptist cried out, beckoning all who were willing to listen and be faithful to his teachings, to be baptized, to become disciples of the One who would follow John. A relationship develops, a relationship which is everlasting, a relationship which redeems, and leads us to the Father.