The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, G‑d’s Son, happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah:
Look, I am sending my messenger before you.
He will prepare your way,
a voice shouting in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.”
John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted G‑d to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
When people eventually find out I’m a priest, I usually get one of two questions, “Where’s your church?” or “A Catholic priest? But you’re married?” For a lot of people, the only type of priest they know of is the Catholic kind who “can’t” get married. I then usually go through something like, “Well, not a catholic priest in that way…” I might even say something like, “There are other kinds of priests — Orthodox, Celtic, Anglican, Old Catholic — and they’re allowed to marry.” It still freaks out some people.
I remember sitting at a table with a group of people when they found out that I was priest and one woman just couldn’t wrap her mind around it. She kept asking questions to another person about me and I was sitting across from her!
With the other question, it’s equally as difficult to try and explain. For a lot of people, especially in Oklahoma, the idea of a priest or minister equals a church building with a parish or congregation. Again, I have to say something like, “No, I don’t serve in a traditional church. I serve the community. I serve at my job. Plus I’ll lead a service in my home.”
At one of Lindisfarne Community annual retreats, one of the other priests said, “We’re ontological priests.” And that was it. That explains it very well.
Others still look at me like a deer caught in the headlights.
As we know, ontology is “a branch of metaphysics concerned with the relations and nature of being.” So, an ontological priest is more about being than doing. As John Wesley said, “I look on all the world as my parish.” For me, that means that I’m to be Christ where I’m at — my job, my home, the store, etc. — every moment of every day. In those places, I’m to be the best example of Christ I can be and hopefully I can point others to Jesus.
In today’s Gospel reading, I see John the Baptist* in that same light. The passage states, “John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted G‑d to forgive their sins” (verse 4). Here we see that John the Baptist was like John Wesley — “the wilderness” was his parish. He wasn’t in some building running a religious business but in the world — where the people were — meeting them where they were at.
His mission, to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus, was to point away from himself to Christ. Even his baptism was only a foreshadowing of the work Jesus would do. Is our calling any different? Are we not called to point people to Jesus? Or are we to show them Jesus by our examples? In other words, aren’t we to be Jesus in the here and now?
I think the vocation of followers of Jesus today — of “Christians,” little christs — is to like mirrors reflecting Jesus to the world. Our actions, and our words, are to be as close as possible to Jesus as we can get. Of course, we’ll always fall short. I mean, when was the last time you walked on water or fed 5,000 children, women, and men?
At the same time, however, while we’re mimicking Jesus, we’re given great opportunity to point to him. “Why are you helping us with this protest against racial profiling, inequality, and injustice?” “Because of Jesus,” could be our response. “We’re all connected because of Jesus. We’re all One.”
And this Jesus I’m talking about is not the Jesus of religious fundamentalism. I’m referring to the Jesus who sided with the oppressed. Who called the outcasts his friends. Who challenged the status quo. Who opposed to the power systems of his day. Who was called the Prince of Peace. I’m referring to the Jesus of the Gospels.
As we go throughout our day-to-day lives, let’s be mindful of times and ways we can reflect that Jesus — be that Jesus to others around us. This isn’t easy work. It’s hard work. Probably the hardest work we’ve ever been tasked with. Nonetheless, that’s what following Jesus is all about. And when we do that, when we reflect Jesus to the world, we help the world prepare for its own encounter with the true Jesus. The world doesn’t need to only experience Jesus through us — it can welcome him to itself. And each time that happens, another piece of creation is transformed into the Realm of G‑d.
So, again, where can we be servants of G‑d in our daily lives? Where are the places and people who need to experience Christ? It’s there in that “wilderness” where we’ll find our parish.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
* The description we’re given of John the Baptist is quite remarkable. The reader is at once to be reminded of the description of Elijah the prophet given in 2Kings 1.1-8. It’s to help the reader see that, according to the prophecies, Elijah did indeed come before the coming of G‑dself to establish G‑d’s Realm. Elijah was the sign of the closing of the Old Covenant age and the preparation of G‑d’s Realm. We see from the description of John the Baptist that he was indeed, in some mystical sense, Elijah (see Malachi 4.5; Matthew 11.11-15; Matthew 17.10-13).