Luke is interested in noting precisely the names of the people in political and religious power at that time. They are the ones who plan and direct everything. However, the decisive event of Jesus Christ gets prepared for and happens outside of their circle of influence and power, without them knowing or deciding anything at all.
Thus it seems to happen in everything essential in the world and in our lives. Thus does God’s grace and salvation penetrate into human history. What’s essential isn’t in the hands of the powerful. Luke says concisely that «the word of God came to John in the desert», not in imperial Rome or in the holy precincts of Jerusalem’s Temple.
There’s no better place to hear God’s call to change the world than in the desert. The desert is the territory of the truth. The place to live what’s essential. There’s no room for the superfluous. You can’t go about piling up unnecessary things. Neither luxury nor ostentation is possible. What’s decisive is seeking the sure path to guide one’s life.
That’s why some prophets yearned so much for the desert, the symbol of a simpler life, one rooted in the essentials, a life still unchanged by so much unfaithfulness to God and so much injustice among the people. In this setting of the desert, the Baptist announces the grand symbol of «Baptism», the starting point for conversion, purification, forgiveness – the beginning of new life.
How to respond to this call today? The Baptist sums it up in an image taken from Isaiah: «Prepare the way of the Lord». Our lives are strewn with obstacles and resistances that impede or make difficult God’s coming to our hearts and to our communities, to our Church and to our world. God is always near. We are the ones who need to open up paths in order to welcome the God incarnate in Jesus.
The images from Isaiah call for basic fundamental commitments: take care of what’s essential without getting lost in what’s secondary; straighten up what we’ve gone about deforming all around us; straighten out bent paths; confront the real truth of our lives in order to recover a willingness to change. We need to do well the baptisms of our children, but what all of us need is a «baptism of conversion».
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf