Saint John the Baptist
By Pauline A. Venancio
St. John the Baptist was a Jewish prophet; it is believed that he was born somewhere in Judea and was a preacher. His birth was announced in a strange way. His parents Zechariah and Elizabeth as we learn from St. Luke, “were both just before God, walking in all the commandments and justifications of the lord without blame; and had no children for that Elizabeth was barren.” They prayed that there union would be blessed with a child and as the years went on the reproach of barrenness bore heavily upon them. Zechariah, as he was performing his priestly function, went to offer incense and there appeared to him an angel sent from God. Upon seeing him Zechariah was troubled and afraid of the angel. The angel said to him, “Fear not your prayer has been answered and your wife Elizabeth shall bear a son and you will call him John and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.” No one really knows the date of John the Baptist’s birth. The gospel suggests that John was born six months before Christ.
It is said that John had gained notice as a prophet in the region of the lower Jordan Valley. The word of the Lord was made unto John, the son of Zechariah, in the desert. And he came into all the country about the Jordan, preaching clothed not in the soft garments of a courier but in those “of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle about his loins.” He looked as if he came neither eating nor drinking. A few incredulous scoffers feigned to be scandalized: “He hath a devil.” Nevertheless, “Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the country about Jordan,” drawn by his strong and winning personality, went out to him. The austerity of his life added immensely to the weight of his words; he was truly a prophet. “Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Such was the message of his teaching. Men of all conditions flocked around him. While baptizing people thought “that perhaps he might be the Christ.” He, however, did not fail to insist that his was only a forerunner’s mission.
John always said, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. I have baptized you with water but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John had been preaching and baptizing for some time when Jesus had come from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by him. John said, “I need to be baptized by you.” Jesus replied “Let it be so now, it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” As soon as Jesus was baptized he went out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened and he saw he Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.”
After the baptism, Jesus is believed to have left to preach in Galilee while John continued preaching in the Jordan valley. Among the many listeners flocking to St. John, some – more deeply touched by his doctrine – stayed with him, thus forming a group of disciples. John’s growing popularity and immense power created fright and fear in the minds of Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Perea and Galilee. Following John’s denunciation of his adulterous and incestuous wife, Herodias, who was also the wife of his half brother, Philip, Antipas had him arrested and imprisoned at Machaerus Fortress on the Dead Sea. On the other hand, Salome, the daughter of Herodias, impressed Antipas with a dance performance. Delighted by the girl’s act, he vowed to grant her any wish. Salome, at the instigation of her mother, demanded the head of John the Baptist. This being done, the girl was not afraid to take that present into her hands, and deliver it to her mother. Thus dies the great forerunner of our blessed Savior, the greatest prophet, “amongst those that are born of women.” His disciples heard of his death, came, took his body and laid it in a tomb, and came and told Jesus. It was told that John the Baptist was indeed a man endued with all virtue who exhorted the Jews to the practice of justice towards men and piety towards God, and also to baptism, preaching that they would become acceptable to God if they renounced their sins.
What we can learn from St. John the Baptist is the importance of having the Sacrament of Baptism and the Sacrament of Confession so that we may be free of sin. St. John the Baptist also said, “I must decrease so that He may increase.” Let us pray for a spirit of true humility and a great hunger for God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Confession.
St. John the Baptist, pray for us!