“We must therefore get to work, and follow the Lord; we must break the chains which impede our following him.” – St. Augustine
Mark 1:1-6: ‘The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah: Look, I am going to send my messenger before you; he will prepare your way. A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight, and so it was that John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. All Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem made their way to him, and as they were baptized by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. John wore a garment of camel-skin, and he lived on locusts and wild honey.’
Christ the Lord St Mark gets right to the point. The Old Testament quotation with which he introduces his Gospel would have been familiar to his readers. They would have recognized that it began one of Isaiah’s descriptions of the promised Messiah. Thus, Mark makes clear from the very beginning who Jesus Christ is: the long-awaited Savior, the fulfillment of the Father’s ancient promise, the one mightier than even the greatest of prophets.
Here is more of Isaiah’s prophecy, a prophecy that, as the rest of Mark’s Gospel will show, comes true in Jesus Christ: “Here comes with power the Lord God, who rules by his strong arm; Here is his reward with him, his recompense before him. Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care” (Isaiah 40:10-11). The awesome power of God flowing through the loving care of a gentle shepherd – this is Christ the Lord.
All the physical characteristics St Mark describes about St John the Baptist echo his message; they also point to the Savior. He is baptizing in the Jordan River, a symbol of universal salvation, both for the Jews and for the Gentiles. The Israelites had miraculously crossed that river in order to enter into the Promised Land; Naaman the Syrian had bathed in the Jordan to induce his miraculous cure from leprosy. St John is wearing clothes reminiscent of those worn by the prophet Elijah, who was expected to reappear at the start of the messianic age. He also ate the only insect permitted by the Jewish law to be used as food – this fidelity to Old Testament regulations gives credibility to his preaching. The Lord is coming, and his precursor is worthy of his role.
Christ the Teacher John the Baptist is celebrated repeatedly throughout the liturgical year. He especially occupies a central role in the liturgy of Advent, because during Advent the Church does what John taught the Israelites to do: get ready for Christ’s coming.
John is described as the one who “prepares a way for the Lord” and “makes his paths straight.” His example of humility and poverty (he ate the poorest of food, dressed in the poorest of clothes, and lived in the wilderness) gave weight to his words when he told people to repent of their arrogance and greed. The baptism he administered symbolized the people’s desire to turn away from selfishness and be faithful to God’s will – a desire he could stir up because he was already living that kind of fidelity.
This same interior conversion is ongoing for all Christians, as we strive to become more like Christ each day. The Church emphasizes this part of Christian spirituality during its two penitential seasons, Advent and Lent. Advent, St John the Baptist’s most visible liturgical season, is the beginning of the liturgical year, a time to examine our hearts and to remove from them all selfishness, impatience, and laziness, so that they can become worthy dwelling places – wide, smooth, well kept roads – for the King who is on his way. And not only should we prepare our own hearts, but also, like John, the sincerity of our repentance should embolden us to invite and assist others to make room for Christ in their lives. If John had not announced Christ’s coming with his words and example, many of his peers would have been unprepared for God’s action in their lives; so too, if we keep Christ’s message, the Good News of Christmas and Easter, to ourselves, many of our peers will be deprived of the grace of God, which they need so badly.
Christ the Friend As that wise and revered devotion, the Rosary, instructs us, it is not only during Advent that we should turn our hearts and minds in a special way to that first Christmas, when Christ was born in Bethlehem and the New Covenant began. The lessons of Christ’s incarnation and birth should always be nourishing our hearts and minds.
That holy night he became one of us; he entered into the sorrows, joys, hopes, and fears of human life. Why? To be able to administer a baptism that would not only symbolize our desire for God’s friendship, as John’s did, but actually make it happen. He came to reunite us with God and to make it possible for us to experience the intense meaning and joy that God has wanted for us from the beginning, which sin destroyed. He came because he knew we needed a friend who would never fail us, a heart that would always love us, and a strength that would constantly support us. Every Christmas, and every day, he wants to come again, and he hopes that there will be room in our inn.
Christ in My Life You didn’t have to come and save me, Lord. I had freely abandoned you, and I deserved to receive what I had chosen. But you didn’t give me what I deserved. You love me too much. It’s hard for me to fathom that. Help me know your love. There are no strings attached to it; it’s pure interest in me. You have to be my light and salvation. Thank you, Lord…
You are always reaching out to me with your wisdom and guidance, but I am not always ready to listen. I get so preoccupied with my own things; I forget that my primary and most important identity is that of being your disciple. Everything else is secondary. Help me clear away the clutter in my mind and heart, so that I am always ready to receive whatever graces you want to send…
Dear Jesus, if I believed more deeply that you are the only Good News that really matters, I would be more eager to share it with those around me who don’t know it yet, or haven’t yet believed in it. Increase my faith, Jesus; with the zeal of your heart, inflame my heart…
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.
Art for this post on Mark 1:1-6: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. San Juan Bautista (Saint John the Baptist), El Greco, circa 1600-1605, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.