By Mel Jasmin
With the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist on June 24, we reflect upon the life and legacy of he who was “great in the sight of the Lord.” St. John is perhaps best known for his baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, marking the beginning of Jesus’ public career.
John was born to Elizabeth, who had been barren for years and advanced in age when she conceived. When the angel Gabriel appeared to her husband Zechariah to tell him of John’s conception, he declared of the child:
[H]e will be great in the sight of [the] Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.” (Luke 1:15-17)
A child of the desert, John grew up and lived as a hermit in the Judean wilderness, eating a diet of locusts and wild honey, and clad in camel hair clothing – details which may be reflective of strict commitments to Nazarite law (Matthew 3:4). In his late twenties John left and began his ministry preaching by the Jordan River, yet the wilderness of Judea remained a definitive aspect of John’s identity. In John 1:23, when the Pharisees ask him who he was, he answered with the language of Isaiah, saying:
I am ‘the voice of one crying out in the desert,
Make straight the way of the Lord.’