John the Baptist was like a street sweeper—cleaning the way—getting rid of the dirt for the coming of the Messiah. “Prepare the way of the Lord” was his theme.
John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He followed a long list of giants like: Father Abraham, Moses, Isaiah—but they all had the same mission—to prepare the people for the promised Savior. John knew that he was the last—that he was already stepping on the heels of the One who would set the people free. Although the folks did not have the distractions of the apparatuses we have; they were distracted by other stuff: the oppression of the Roman government, the economy, their own inadequacies of sin. That’s why John was helpful. He was gifted in helping the people refocus on what was truly important. John showed them a way out of their guilt—repentance. Naturally, John got a lot of customers. “People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him.” He was doing more business than Black Friday at the mall. In essence John was “giving away” forgiveness. Everybody loves a “freebie”. There was no charge, no penance attached, no reprimand. All folks had to do was acknowledge their sins and get all wet. Long lines formed at the River Jordan because John spoke to the basic necessity of human nature—the need to be forgiven. Picture the scene: Dressed down to the bare essentials. John’s hand over us—his eyes staring us in the face—not in accusation but more with eyes of mercy. The sin or sins are pronounced and down into the water we go. “Fought with my wife. Cheated on my husband. Stole some money.” Sins don’t change much through the centuries. Good thing that John didn’t leave the people under the water according to their sins. Those who criticized mother in laws might have gotten a few more seconds under water.
Sins are always relational. We sin against people, against ourselves and therefore we feel disconnected. God is perfect community and wants us to be like Him. When we sin, we distance ourselves from Him and from each other. Forgiveness brings us back. Of course we have to be repentant—try not to sin again.
That’s one of the reasons that so many stop coming to the Confession, because they know that they are going to sin again. What a dumb argument. We might as well conclude that we will never again wash our underwear because we are only going to get it dirty again. Our actions might be the same, but the sin is never the same. We are constantly changing—there are pictures to prove it. Our body changes constantly. Millions of cells are born and die every minute. Our mind, our attitude, our soul is suppose to mature. Sometimes, through our sins, in spite of our sins, God helps us to grow up spiritually. Never should we throw in the towel and say, “I’ll never change. What’s the use.” God is not finished with us until we take our last breath. We are all a work in progress. John did not give up on the people at the River. His words are just as powerful today, “Prepare, get ready, make straight His paths.” A modern translation is, “Get your act together.”
Our Jordan River is the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. No longer John the Baptist, but Jesus Christ who invites us, we must not refuse forgiveness.