It is written in the book of Isaiah: A voice cries in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord; clear a straight path for him. Every ravine shall be filled in, and every mountain and hill leveled; winding paths shall be straightened, and rough ways made smooth; and all mankind shall see God’s deliverance.”
John the Baptist.
In the course of time, John the Baptist appears in the Judaean wilderness. John’s clothing was a rough coat of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.
“Repent for the kingdom of heaven is upon you.” He says.
The people asked him, “What are we to do?” He replied, “Whoever has two shirts must share with him who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.”
The tax collectors asked him, “What are we to do?” He told them, “Exact no more than the assessment.”
Soldiers asked him, “And what of us?” To them he said, “No bullying; no blackmail; make do with your pay!”
This is a man on the fringe. Living in the wilderness, living on locusts (which we can get into big discussions about what this means: does it really mean grasshoppers, or is it a type of bean, or simply a metaphor for the ingesting the evil upon the land…we’ll leave that for another day) and wild honey (honey is often a holy nectar in ancient texts). John is wearing a rough coat of camel hair. Regardless, John is not a wealthy man. This is not a settled/town man. His ideas are radical…and yet simple:
Share when you have more than enough. Be fair and don’t steal. Be kind, especially when you are in a position of power. Be content with enough.
And people are listening. People want to know how to find God and be present in the world through their own actions…their own families and communities. They want to cultivate a relationship where they repent of their sins before God and go forth being in the world as God would like them to be. As good people. They are beginning to get away from the intermediaries of the Temple Priests.
The world winds in cycles. Cycles of life. Circles. It’s not a surprise that the history in our religions do the same. The Old Testament, the Jewish tradition began as a faith practiced in the home. A family based religion. A relationship between individual man, individual families, and God. Families sacrificed and prayed to God on their own behalf.
Then, the religion spreads and it gets big. What begins as a home worship becomes a community practice and then there are temples to gather together to worship. The temples get bigger.
As religion grows, and more people being to practice, we need rules. We need to create a common ground from which to practice. Who leads? Who follows? Who offers the sacrifice? Who builds the temples? How do we share the resources in community?
What does this passage mean? What does that passage mean? Who are the wisdom keepers? How do we create a faith that is true to the roots when it begins to grow and spread?
We come to have priests. The leaders and the intermediaries. A home practice becomes a temple practice. Priests explain the word of God.
Sometimes, the individual loses personal connection to God. God becomes a temple God and not so much a God of the home, family, individual.
Things can get too big. When there are many leaders and intermediaries and buildings to take care of, there must be hierarchies and roles. Sometimes, things get a little bit out of control. And power becomes corruption instead of leadership.
This is what is happening as Jesus comes into play. We see this in people seeking connection to God and Grace from a simple man: John the Baptist. People begin to wonder if perhaps John is the Messiah. This man who lives on locusts and wild honey. This man who comes out of the wilderness.
This is not a temple man.
We’ll see this corruption play out in the temples in the future with Jesus and the moneychangers. Corrupt priests making sacrifices on behalf of the people…for money. We see this when Jesus is disgusted by a house of God becoming a house of…money, corruption, and power.
John is the beginning, coming out of the wilderness. Individual people repenting for their sins. Preparing for a coming back to a God of the people. Baptism for a fresh start…to prepare the way. It begins with water. Water. Stuff of the common people. Water. Jesus will close with the stuff of a common table: bread and wine.
Jesus brings God back to the people and back to the home. Repent. God sees. Love. God sees. Be honest. God sees.
Jesus brings God back to the heart. Jesus brings power back to the people. You are responsible to behaving well. In individual baptism, repent of your sins and then:
Be kind. Share when you have more than enough. Be fair and don’t steal. Be kind. Be content with what you have. Enough.
Jesus brings it back to a small beginning where again men and women and families worshipped. Where worship is back to the household, living rooms, the hearth, the kitchen. Small communities gathering together to heal and worship together. A place where there is no need for a temple priest to speak to God for the individual. God is with us. Teachers and students. Guides and healers. Leaders. Leaders.
It’s a natural cycle. Beginnings, growth, maintenance, and a return to simplicity. Jesus brings us back to a simpler faith. Love. We continue to see it play out over time. Where are we on the cycle of getting too big and coming back to simplicity and roots? Where do you see yourself?
Be like John: questioning the norm. Coming out of the wilderness to guide us to repent and be good. Guiding us to begin anew. Fresh starts and new beginnings. Letting go of what isn’t good and true. Wash away what’s past and begin anew.
Be like Jesus: creating a new faith where one finds God and Love…within. Beginning anew with simplicity, patience, and compassion. Allow faith to grow from your own truth and your own heart. Spread it.
When in doubt simply (simple, but not easy):
Be kind. Share when you have more than enough. Be fair. Don’t steal. Be kind, be especially careful of this anytime you are in a position of power, it’s sneaky. Be content with what you have. Trust, have faith, that it’s enough.
And, always, keep good company to support you on the journey.