A message we need to hear, LUKE 3:1–6
By Abbot John Pereira OSB
“… during the pontificate of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness” (Lk 3:2).
The gospel tells us that it is in the wilderness where the messenger and the message are to be found. Luke introduces us to the impressive political landscape of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod and Annas and Caiaphas.
However, Luke is suggesting that the real happenings are taking place far away in the wilderness. And as difficult as wilderness periods are, they may precisely be the moments when we meet the messenger from God with a message we need to hear.
The Covid-19 pandemic is one wilderness that we have been journeying through for the past two years. Is the gospel telling us that it is in this wilderness that the messenger and the message are to be found?
God has a strange way of communicating with us. God sometimes leads us into a wilderness to speak to our heart as He did with the people of Israel. For 40 years, God led the people of Israel through the wilderness, eating quail and manna, on their way to the promised land.
The wilderness offers the possibility for a new relationship with God. The prophets often spoke about the wilderness experience in nostalgic terms. Hosea says, “But look, I am going to seduce her and lead her into the desert and speak to her heart” (2:16).
The desert life of the Exodus represents a lost ideal. And again, “It was like finding grapes in the desert when I found Israel, like seeing early fruit on a fig tree when I saw your ancestors” (9:10).
Divine nostalgia accompanied the people of Israel through the wilderness.
So, the doors of Luke’s Gospel suddenly swing open, and there stands John in the wilderness of Judea.
His surprising appearance is a claim that God’s ways with the world are often strange, unforeseen, and unpredictable. Here, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, John the Baptist issues a “call to worship” in the flesh – not a nice and cherry “Good Morning”, but a real call to worship that shakes us to the core, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus does not refer to His apostles as the “sugar” of the earth, but rather as its salt. John the Baptist did not offer sugar.
John the Baptist symbolises our conscience. Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, of the Second Vatican Council, tells us that our conscience is where we are alone with God.
And what better way to describe a wilderness? “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever sounds in his heart at the right moment … ” (§16).
It requires that we fill in every valley and that we lay low every mountain and hill in our lives.
“Heavenly Father, I trust in You. As You take me through various places of loneliness and wilderness in my life’s journey, I sometimes feel lost and helpless.
Open my heart to understand these moments of wilderness and loneliness as precious times when You are most present to me in a tender and gentle way. It is in these periods that You long to speak tenderly to my heart, just as You spoke tenderly to the people of Israel while they were journeying through the Sinai wilderness. Amen.
The gospel reflections for December are by Abbot John Pereira OSB of the Abbey of Our Lady of Exile, Mount St Benedict.