John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
John the Baptist
Today’s Gospel reading prompts us to reflect on the life and mission of John the Baptist. John was a very peculiar figure. He wore a tunic made of camel’s hair tightened by a leather belt and lived on a diet of bugs and wild honey. Yet, this revolting appearance and lifestyle had a deep meaning. John was dressing just like Elijah the prophet (see 2 Kings 1:8), and he was acting like the “New Elijah,” the one prophesied to come and “prepare the way of the Lord” (see Malachi 3:1).
The first thing we see him doing is preaching in the desert, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” John is both speaking and acting in conformity with God’s plan. He is fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah, “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God’” (Isaiah 40:3). This message is exactly the same as Christ’s message (Matthew 4:17).
John is called “the Baptist” precisely because he baptized with the baptism of repentance. This is why people were flocking to him from all over and “were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.”He was none too pleased with those who came to him with questionable motives. Indeed, he called the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers” and “sons of snakes.” John the Baptist warns them not just to do the right things outwardly but also to “[p]roduce good fruit as evidence of [their] repentance.”
John’s mission was to prepare the people for the Coming of Christ. In your prayer today, reflect on how you are preparing yourself for his Second Coming and ask yourself, do you “[p]roduce good fruit as evidence of your repentance”?