John the Baptist is such an important person in our faith. It has been said that you can’t get to Jesus except through John. John was the last great prophet of the Old Testament, and the first prophet of the New Testament. All four Gospels tell of John the Baptist. John’s life summarizes all of the history of Israel.
Paul preached in the synagogue of Pisidia, in his first mission to the Gentiles. He said to them,
From (King David’s) descendants God, according to his promise, has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus.
John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentanceto all the people of Israel;
and as John was completing his course, he would say,
‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he.
Behold, one is coming after me;
I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.’
Paul recognized that John the Baptist was not an obscure figure. Jesus told his followers that John was among the greatest of all men born of women. John, himself, never sought fame or fortune, but insisted on his lowliness in relation to Jesus,
“I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.”
So, who is John? John was the son of a priestly family. His father, Zecharia, was a priest in the Temple of Jerusalem. His mother, Elizabeth, was a daughter of the priestly order descended from Moses’ brother, Aaron. John was destined to be a priest in the Temple. John grew up very familiar with the rites and traditions of the Temple. But, he also saw first-hand the corruption of the Temple. John chose not to become a Temple priest.
For centuries, prophets had spoken of the corruption of the Temple. Jesus spoke of the corruption of the Temple. John spoke with his life, from the desert.
Normally, the Temple worship was about making sacrifice for forgiveness of sins in the Temple. John most likely joined a group called the Essenes. These Jews condemned the corruption of the Temple and called people to come out from Jerusalem and all of Israel into the desert to seek forgiveness of sins. John’s baptism was not our Sacrament of Baptism, but a ritual washing for forgiveness of sins as an alternative to Temple sacrifices.
John’s baptism recalled the liberation of Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The nation of Israel had to pass first the Red Sea to leave Egypt; and then cross the River Jordan before entering the Promised Land. John’s baptism was like that crossing of the River Jordan. Their hope was that they were liberated from their sin.
Jesus came to John to be baptized. The Holy Trinity came to the River Jordan that day, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Spirit came upon Jesus as he rose from the river water. God spoke, saying, “This is my beloved son.” When Jesus formed the Church, he sent out the eleven apostles saying, “Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Jesus took John’s baptism and transformed it to a Holy Sacrament. That Sacrament is now our entry way to Jesus, to the Sacramental Life and the Kingdom of Heaven. We all come to Jesus through John the Baptist.