John the Baptist

by David Morson

Jesus said, “Among those born of women, there is no greater than John”. This is an amazing statement about John showing his importance to Jesus. John was Jesus’ cousin and was the last of the great Prophets preparing the people for the coming of the Saviour and urging repentance for wrong doing.

John’s parents were Zechariah and Elizabeth. They lived at Ain Karim, a small village near to Jerusalem where there is now a beautiful Catholic Church in honour of John. They were both elderly and had not been blessed with any children. Zechariah was one of the Abia Priests who were allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, the most sacred part of the Temple twice a year.

On one of these occasions, the Angel Gabriel visited Zechariah and told him that Elizabeth was pregnant with a son who they were to call John, meaning “The Chosen Of God””. Because Zechariah questioned this message, he was struck dumb until he accepted the Angel’s words.

When the Angel came to ask Mary to be the Mother of God, he told her that her cousin Elizabeth was also to have a baby. Mary decided to visit Elizabeth and when Mary drew near to the house, Elizabeth came out to meet her and said that when she greeted Mary, she felt her baby leap for joy in her womb. Thus showing he would prepare the way for Jesus.

When Elizabeth gave birth, relatives and friends gathered to see what the baby would be called. They expected him to be named Zechariah after his father, but Zechariah called for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John ” as the Angel had instructed and immediately he was able to speak again.

We next hear of John in the Fifteenth Year of the Emperor Tiberius, approximately 28AD, when he starts baptising people in the River Jordan as a sign of repentance. Some of us in the Parish visited the place at Bethabara, Bethany Beyond the Jordan on the east side of the River in a Pilgrimage in 1994!

John Preached “metanoia” a total turning away from sin and starting a new life in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. His Baptism was a sign of cleansing. John lived in the wilderness, dressed in a camel hair coat and ate locusts and some believed that he was the Prophet Elijah come back to earth. Others thought he was the Messiah himself. But John denied all of these, stating that “he was not worthy to undo the strap of the sandal of the one who was to come”. He said that he baptised with water, but the One who was to come would baptise with Fire and the Holy Spirit giving the very life of God.

When Jesus came to John to be Baptised, John said that he should be baptised by Jesus, but Jesus insisted and as He came up out of the water a voice from Heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased!! and the Holy Spirit in the form of a Dove hovered over Jesus’ Head. This was the first manifestation of the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

John then pointed to Jesus as the one Disciples should follow saying, “He must increase, I must decrease. John’s work of preparing the way for Jesus was now complete.

But John was arrested by King Herod Antipas, the son of King Herod who had tried to kill the Baby Jesus in Bethlehem. John had constantly preached against Herod Antipas that he was wrong to marry Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife when she was still married to Philip and Herod was also still married. Herod was unwilling to execute John and kept him in Prison. John sent his disciples to Jesus to. confirm that John’s work was over. Jesus replied that the lame walk. the blind see and the Good News is preached to the Poor. John was then content.

In order to get rid of John The Baptist, Herodias used her daughter Salome to dance for the King on his birthday and make Herod promise her anything in return. Once Salome had danced, she asked for the head of John the Baptist on a plate. Herod was shattered by this request, but had given the promise to grant her anything she asked for in public and so could not go back on it. So John was beheaded. but died knowing he had achieved his mission in preparing the way for Jesus and that was the reward he valued.