Transfer the same mentality to the time that John the Baptist was baptizing people in the Jordan River. He offered sinners a chance to start a new life by the repentance of their sins and getting all wet. The complete emersion in the water was symbolic of being cleansed. Folks could leave their old life behind and experience new birth, a new start. John’s fame had spread like wildfire. The baptism of repentance sounded like a great deal. Beat having to go to the Temple to sacrifice an animal. The greater the sin, the bigger the animal had to be. People had to bring the best of their herd or pay outrageous prices at the Temple for an unblemished animal. Therefore, the baptism of John the Baptist was more attractive. Besides, his words were sincere. He lived what he preached. His clothes were made of camel’s hair and his diet was locusts and wild honey. Obviously, he was not after money. John lived an austere life with no pretense. His preaching of repentance and getting into the River was refreshing in light of all the hypocrisy to which people were accustomed. At the Temple there were all sorts of restrictions: purification rituals, marital status questions, previous offenses. With John there were no restrictions, only a repentant heart. No questions were asked. Everyone was eligible to get into the water and start a new life, free from the past.
Inevitably John the Baptist was getting a lot of business. Meanwhile, the Temple experienced a shortage of customers. Naturally, the liturgical police came to see what was happening at the Jordan River. Perhaps we will never appreciate the moment of confrontation between the Pharisees and Sadducees and John the Baptist. The Pharisees and Sadducees did not pull out any weapons, or make threats, or physical attacks. They just showed up. John knew that they didn’t belong, because their hearts were not repentant. They came because they were curious. John saw right through them. For an instant, they must have felt like they were looking into a mirror. John told them who they were: a brood of vipers—interested only in taking advantage of people. When faced with John, the Pharisees and Sadducees experienced a moment of truth about themselves. Basically, John told them that they were no better than the people he was baptizing. Contrary to their opinion, they were not God’s favorite, because God does not play favorites. One was coming to whom everyone would bow.
John the Baptist set the pace for Christianity. He knew that he was not the One. His job was to prepare the way. That’s our job too. Parents, spouses, teachers, public servants, Bishops, ministers: everybody’s job is to prepare the way for Christ and never point to ourselves. None of us is the center, regardless of how popular, how famous, how successful. Christ is the center of everything that we do and all that we are. Jesus is our reason we get up in the morning, work hard, serve others. Our Lord makes all things possible, without Him nothing makes sense. The Sacraments are our perfect connection to His love for us, His mercy. None of the Sacraments depend on us, but on Christ. Since we can never approach them in a perfect way, because we are not perfect. We approach them with a humble heart. Consider that Jesus criticized those who stuck to the law, who thought that they were above others. Jesus did not say, “The law has saved you; Your religion has made you well.” He said, “Your faith has saved you.” We walk by faith. Faith was what compelled the people to get into the Jordan River, repent of their sins and be baptized by John. Our Faith brings us here today. The invitation made by John still stands, but in a more redeeming light.
Jesus Christ is now the One who invites us to be healed of the past. The Lord refreshes us with the Holy Spirit.