Today’s Gospel introduces the Baptist as the prophetic figure who comes to prepare a way for the Lord.
We monks sense a closeness to John. He was, afterall, the first of the desert ‘monks’ who held Jesus as their Christ. He lived a life concentrated towards just one aim: to make straight the path of our Lord and Saviour. And today makes us ponder: how do we make those paths straight? How do we continue the work of the Baptist?
Perhaps it is not so easy. Our world doesn’t want us to be penitential, to be simple, to live a life of poverty. Most of all, the self drive to stay rooted in the Gospel message can be a sometimes herculean task. But we are, nevertheless, asked by John to follow in his footsteps, by preparing for the coming of Christ.
There was a moment in the Baptist’s life, following all of his preparation and mortification and prophecy, when he recognised Jesus. Christ came to him. Yet at that moment, at that extraordinary meeting of Christ and his forerunner, we can easily imagine that much of what John had anticipated was blown out of the water. Suddenly, Christ was to be baptized by HIM?! Not the other way around, not what he had thought. And Jesus had to gently remind John that it was the proper thing to do. This is a perfect example of the alarming unconventionality of Jesus, and his propensity to utterly surprise even those who dedicate their lives to him.
We should have out ears cocked, then, for Christ. We his followers seek to find him and to recognise him, through the Sacraments, through prayer and through our meeting of those around us, in our friends and enemies alike. Yet, we must also be prepared to be shocked, to be surprised. Are we really so holy, so God-orientated, that we know what Christ would want us to do, when even John the Baptist was himself mistaken?
We learn from John that Christ’s humility and his mission to do the will of his Father in heaven are fundamental to the way of Christ. And this is where we, his followers, can learn. To make his paths straight, we are called upon to be humble, like Christ, and to give ourselves in the service of the Father’s will. And to begin, as so many of the saints did, with the small things, the small tokens of love, is a truly monastic way of living, and the simplest way of beginning on that way.
A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.