February 4th, 2005
Tom Bannantine, S.J.
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Today the gospel reading from Mark focuses our attention on
John the Baptist and specifically on his death. I asked myself
what does the life and death of John the Baptist say to me?
After some prayer and reflection, I decided it might be good to
say something about my thoughts about the life and death of John
the Baptist. More than once in reading about John I have been
struck by the fact that his must have been a lousy life.
He was born when his mother and father were already old. It must have
been difficult for them to take care of a baby and to raise a son. His
father Zechariah had his duties as a priest of the temple to perform.
These duties probably took him away from his wife and son during the weeks
that he was on duty. John and Jesus could not have seen each other often
as children since John lived in Judea and Jesus in Galilee. All of
these factors probably contributed to a less than ideal childhood. Both
of John’s parents apparently died before he reached adulthood. When
he did become an adult he went out to the desert of Judea west of the river
Jordan and lived by himself as a hermit for some years. His diet consisted
of locusts and wild honey, and he did not drink wine or strong spirits.
He clothed himself in camel’s hair garments and a leather belt, which must
have been very uncomfortable in the desert heat. Throughout his life
John seems to have always been a loner. Later when he began to baptize people
in the Jordan, his message was not always a welcome one to his listeners.
John called the people to task for their sins and urged them to repent.
Many of those who became his disciples soon left him to follow Jesus.
While he was still a young man he ran afoul of King Herod when he reproached
the king for marrying his brother’s wife. Imprisoned, he was put to
death by beheading to placate the hatred of Herod’s wife Herodias. At
the time of his death, John was probably in his mid 30’s.
From a human standpoint, John’s was not a great life. He does not
appear to have had the happiness and comfort that most of us crave in our
lives. And yet John played a major role in the greatest story ever
told; the story of our salvation. Almighty God chose John to be the
precursor of Jesus Christ our savior. From the beginning of his life
until his death, John was a willing instrument in God’s plan for the salvation
of the world. Throughout his life John faithfully and steadfastly adhered
to God’s will for him. His life may not have been glamorous or exciting,
but John didn’t care about that. He was content to do the will of God
for him, whatever it was. When John’s life here on earth came to an
end I’m sure he had earned a great reward in heaven. At the hour of
his death God probably greeted John with the words we all long to hear: “Well
done, good and faithful servant.” I think the lesson for all of us
in the life of John the Baptist is that the events of his life were not as
important as the motivation which guided him throughout his life. Today
as we read about his heroic death, may we be inspired to work to imitate
his fidelity to the will of God.
to the writer of this reflection.
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