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A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith
Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: August 21, 2021
By Deacon Mike Cumnock
St. Mary of the Springs Church
One of my favorite prayer techniques is to read Scripture and then place myself in the scene — first person, present tense. This allows me to explore from within the Word. Recently, I was reading the various stories of John the Baptist. I admit that I can’t really imagine what it was like before Jesus. Especially the anticipation and longing that existed; the desire for a Messiah must have been palpable.
Mary, after her encounter with the Angel Gabriel, goes to her kinswoman Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea to the village of Ein Karem, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. She stays through the last three months of Elizabeth’s term and thus the first trimester of her own pregnancy. It’s likely that Jesus and John spent time together during childhood. Elizabeth, Zechariah and John lived close to Jerusalem. Jesus and his parents might very well have visited during their own temple pilgrimages.
When John answers his call to follow God, he goes into the desert to prepare the way of the Lord. Elijah left this world at the Jordan River, and John begins his ministry there. When John appears on the scene, many thought that he might be the anointed one and were excited to follow him. They wanted him to be the answer to their centuries of prayer. He was an unusual character with a miraculous birth story. Many would have recognized him by his clothing and the geographic location of his ministry as reminiscent of both Isaiah and Elijah.
Their answer comes in this week’s Gospel: “Master, to whom shall we go?” When I placed myself in that scene, I was immediately overwhelmed with pain and sadness. I simply couldn’t bear contemplating a life without Jesus or the sacraments.
The sense of excitement builds as more and more people seek John out. He baptizes people in the Jordan near the area where their ancestors had crossed into the promised land. Many thought that John was the promised one, but he is quick to point out that he isn’t even fit to untie the sandals of the one to come. His preaching focuses on renouncing sin or harmartia (from the Greek word hamartaneiin meaning to “miss the mark” or lose the path or way). He has come to prepare the way.
Jesus comes to John to be baptized. John refuses, but Jesus assures him it is a proper way to fulfill all righteousness. The sinless God-Man chooses to identify with sinful people. John witnesses the Trinity: The Son comes to be baptized; his Father speaks, as the Spirit descends like a dove. John is the first to point out Jesus as the Chosen One, the Lamb of God upon whom the Spirit came to rest. Following his baptism, Jesus is called or driven into the wilderness. When he emerges, the Power of the Spirit is in him, and he begins to preach.
Before John is arrested, he encourages his own disciples to follow Jesus. The number of followers grows exponentially as people heard his preaching, observed his actions, saw or heard about his marvelous signs and cures. They come to believe John was right; this is the Chosen One of God. However, some of Jesus’ teachings and requests are really difficult and instead of “powering through” some return to their former way of life, a life without John or Jesus. He then asks his closest friends: “Do you also want to leave?”
Their answer comes in this week’s Gospel: “Master, to whom shall we go?” When I placed myself in that scene, I was immediately overwhelmed with pain and sadness. I simply couldn’t bear contemplating a life without Jesus or the sacraments. Sometimes, when I get angry and frustrated with my Church, I “power through” because I have come to believe there is no place else for me to go.
Deacon Mike Cumnock serves St. Mary of the Springs Church in Hot Springs.