July 10, 2014
Dear brothers and sisters,
The good news today comes from Mark 1:4-6.
John [the] Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and honey.
It had been three hundred years since the appearance of the last prophet. The Jews were wondering if God had abandoned them particularly since they were living under the thumb of an occupying power. Now another long-awaited prophet has been sent by God. Mark describes John’s appearance to reinforce further his status as a prophet in the manner of Elijah who similarly was clothed. Also similar to the late prophets of Israel, John lived as an ascetic eating locusts and honey rather than drinking wine and eating meat. Mark’s presentation of John gives him authenticity and authority.
Now what God had promised as proclaimed in the scriptures has come to be. John has arrived crying in the wilderness preparing people for the arrival of the Lord. What does it mean to be prepared? God through John wants His people to be transformed beginning with an acknowledgment of their sins for which He is ready to forgive them. He longs to have His people turn to Him with their whole heart and mind and soul. Confession and baptism were the means of doing so. According to Francis Moloney in The Gospel of Mark, though, baptism was rarely practiced before this. This was something new to the Israelites, a harbinger of a new age, a new relationship between God and His people, a new time of salvation from the oppression of sin. Something was astir and all the people of Judea and Jerusalem felt it and flocked to John.
What is it that urges me to turn to God, to transform my life? It is baptism by fire not water; it is through the Holy Spirit — that something that stirs within me creating a hunger for union with God. Instead of turning to someone like John, God has given me His Holy Spirit that resides within me. He wants me to turn inward, to transform my life from the inside out. All I need to know is that He loves me no matter what, that He wants is best for me, and that He wants me to help bring about His kingdom by treating everyone else with love and compassion — to be his heart and hands. That was the message that Jesus was about to bring to the Jews; that’s the message that he whispers to me everyday. Transformation for me is not sudden, dramatic, or final. It happens in fits and starts, one step forward and two back it seems at times. But yet is happens and mainly, I think, by reading the gospel every day. These are the words Jesus speaks to me in urging me to transform my life, to be in union with God.