St John the Baptist is an enigmatic figure. He mystified many around the time of Christ. He was not what anyone expected, and yet his message had the ring of authenticity about it. His origins, although extraordinary at the time of his birth, still leave a great deal covered under the cloud of the unknown.
Every year, the Church gives us the figure of John as the one chosen by God to reveal his Son to Israel. He was not exactly the one whom the leaders of ancient Israel would have chosen as a suitable precursor for the Messiah, but then again, the Messiah was not the one they would have chosen either. So, what’s new? The other Gospels reveal to us that John wore a garment of camel skin, he ate locusts and wild honey, and he lived out in the wilderness until he appeared openly to Israel.
If we had the task of choosing someone who would announce the way for the Redeemer of the world, we may be tempted to think about the messenger in ways that would more accurately engage our culture. But, God disagrees! Instead, the character and circumstances surrounding John must necessarily form part of our understanding of his message. In other words, the message of John is his person, not just his words.
There is much to ponder in the interior life of John revealed in iconic form through the contemplative attitude of his mother, Elizabeth, who for “five months kept to herself” (Lk 1:25), as well as the forced silence upon his father, Zechariah, (cf. Lk 1:20a) who learned—the hard way—that the mysteries of God are revealed to those who do not question his ways.
May we, too, find life by following John’s example and looking to Christ. Amen.
Fr Mark De Battista