Tag Archives: desert

The Birth of John the Baptist

June 23, three months after the angel announces to Mary that Elizabeth is six months pregnant (March 25) John the Baptist is born.

From his birth John the Baptist was destined, not to follow Zachariah his father as a priest in the temple, but to go into the desert to give himself solely into God’s hands to be readied to welcome the Messiah, Jesus Christ. John is the last of the Jewish prophets, the first to recognize Jesus, the only saint whose birth and death are celebrated in our church calendar.

It may have changed, but there’s an interesting Sunday walk in Rome I’d recommend.  Go out the city gate at the Porta di San Sebastiano and walk south along one of the oldest roads in the world, the Via Appia, to the catacombs and church of San Sebastiano. Outside the city gates, you’re in what the ancient Romans called the “limes,” the limits, the world beyond the city, a different world altogether.

To the ancient Romans the “limes”  meant the end of civilized, reasonable life. No place to live, they thought. Get where you’re going as soon as you can. “Speed limit” comes from the word. Go beyond the limit and you can lose your life.

Few people today are usually on that road, deserted fields all around. The only sound  you can hear is the sound of your own breathing and your footsteps.

The last line of St. Luke’s gospel for today’s feast says of John:

“The child grew and become strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.”

How did John become strong in a desert? Centuries before, God led the Jews from Egypt into the desert. With no map or provisions they went into a world unknown. Yet they were in the hands of God, who became their strength.

Most of us stay within our limits; we don’t go to live in physical deserts. Yet, try as we may to avoid them, we face them anyway in things we didn’t expect, like sickness, or death, or separation, or divorce, or the loss of a job, or lost friends or lost places we know and love. The desert’s never far from any of us.

The Via Appia brings you to the catacombs, the great underground tunnels where the early Christians buried their dead. They  buried them there, I think,  not to hide them, but because this place was an image of a new unknown world.  The “limes,”  marked the end of this life and foreshadowed a new life. The dead no longer belonged in the city; they were going to  a new city.

Life holds its doubts, fears, uncertainty. But we don’t face limits alone. In the “limes” God alone has you in his hands. God gives you strength and brings you where you’re meant to be. God is there.  God is there.

Readings for the Feast:

Like other ancient church feasts, the Nativity of John the Baptist is tied to cosmology. John’s birth coincides with the summer solstice. He begins to decrease to make way for the one who will increase. The Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist is celebrated by the Orthodox Church June 24.

Birth of John the Baptist. Orthodox Church of America.

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Jesus Mourns the Death of John the Baptist

“Jesus mourns the death of John the Baptist”
Matthew 14:13 in a couplet
Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Related posts: 17 Ordinary Time Saturday, Beatitudes, Day 2, 17 Ordinary Time Sunday
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.

Matthew 14:13

John the Baptist was “the voice of one crying in the wilderness (eremós)” (Mark 1:3; Matthew 3:3; Luke 3:4). At the news of his death, Jesus withdrew to a “deserted place (erēmon topon),” by himself (Matthew 14:13).

In the Bible, the desert (or wilderness) is a place of encounter with God and truth. The Spirit drove Jesus into the desert (eremós) to be tempted by the devil (Mark 1:12; Matthew 4:1; Luke 4:1).

Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh with the request: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Let my people go, that they may hold a feast for me in the wilderness” (Exodus 5:1). 

The children of Israel never imagined that they would wander in the desert for forty years! The long years of nomadic trial, temptation, and trust in the Lord for daily bread were designed to attune ears to the voice of God. Away from the hustle and bustle of Egyptian cities, God called his people to himself in the wilderness.

The Hebrew word for wilderness (midbar) is translated as eremós in the Greek Septuagint. The biblical concept of the wilderness (midbar) is derived from the noun dabar (speech, word) and the verb dabar (to speak). 

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the “word of the Lord” visits patriarchs and prophets with divine guidance and directives (e.g., Genesis 15:1, 4; I Samuel 15:10; 2 Samuel 7:4; 24:11; Jeremiah 1:4). The “Ten Commandments” are the “ten words” given to Moses in the wilderness of Mount Sinai (Deuteronomy 4:13; Hebrew).

In Matthew’s version of the feeding of the five thousand, the crowd followed Jesus into the wilderness and received an abundant feast from five loaves and two fish. As the Father fed the Israelites in the desert with “bread from heaven” (manna) and the word of the Lord (the five books of the Pentateuch and the two tablets of the law) through his servant Moses, he fed them with his own Son, the Word made flesh and “true bread from heaven” (John 6:32). 

When the Word of the Lord fills our being, we become a desert oasis for our God.

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.

Hosea 2:14 (RSV; Hosea 2:16 in NABRE)

“I Will Allure Her”

Resurrection of Jairus’ Daughter (Unknown author – Codex Egberti, Fol 25)

14th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday (Year II)

Hosea 2:16, 17b-18, 21-22; Matthew 9:18-26

Hosea, a prophetic instrument of God, had the unusual vocation of illustrating with his own life God’s undying love for his people. Directed to take an unfaithful woman for his wife who bore children with names denoting the consequences of infidelity, Hosea’s family became a mirror for Israel. The overarching symbol of a “marriage” between God and humanity in the Old and New Testaments was inaugurated by Hosea. 

After being banished from the lush garden of Eden, Adam and his progeny ran in every direction after worldly enticements—that which was “a delight to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6)—in the futile attempt to restore the immortal joy for which they were made. The carnival of sights, sounds, scents, tastes and textures of the city of Cain overwhelmed the spirit and sent the inner compass spinning. 

Thus says the LORD: I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.

One does not fight fire with fire, but with its opposite, water. From the city of the world into the desert, Adam needed to be starved of the sensations and idols of the world in order to recover his divine sonship and origin. What “allure” did the desert and the wilderness have for a worldling? None, unless the still, small voice stifled by the clamor of the senses received a hearing from the inner spirit. Usually, only desperation after exhausting the decaying fruit of the city propelled surrender and retreat. 

Layer after layer of artificiality and unnatural conventions encrusted the human heart over many generations, yet the still, small voice was never completely silenced. The fundamental yearning for life, a voice above the din, was never destroyed. 

The synagogue official, Jairus, in desperation set aside the rumors and prejudices of the religious authorities against Jesus and sought his healing power for his daughter. The woman who suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years, and who was considered ceremonially unclean, broke with religious convention in search of the fundamental good, the fullness of life. Risking severe censure by reaching out to touch Jesus’ tassel, her faith and hope in the bearer of life trumped manmade rules. At the official’s house, Jesus walked into the unnatural fuss and commotion of professional mourners—flute players and wailing women—who “ridiculed him” for declaring the girl “not dead but sleeping.” The still, small voice calling out for life had been wrapped and mummified by a thousand artificial bandages. 

Life himself took the little girl by the hand and lifted her from the throes of death and mourning. In raising her up, Jesus showed himself to be the life-giving voice in the desert calling humanity back to the Father. 

I will espouse you to me forever: I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the LORD.

-GMC

Bread from Ravens

Elijah on Mount Horeb, as depicted in a Greek Orthodox icon

10th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday (Year II)

I Kings 17:1-6, Psalm 121, Matthew 5:1-12

In a world of individuals where people scrape and fend for themselves in order to survive, the image of a ragged Elijah in haircloth being fed by ravens seems unreal. Elijah is a type of monk or hermit—St. John the Baptist was compared to him (Luke 1:17)—and is claimed by the Carmelites as their founder and inspiration. Freed from self-care, Elijah was able to focus all of his energy on God. 

In the third century after Pentecost, a wave of Elijah and Baptist imitators swept across Egypt and Syria as men and women fled the cities to seek God alone in the desert. The clothing worn by the two prophets inspired their simple habits—sleeveless tunics, belts and sandals—and signified their renunciation of the pomp and vanity of this world. 

Like Elijah, the early Christian ascetics lived simply and relied on Divine Providence for their daily needs. They earned only enough to sustain bare necessities in order to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). “The Lord is your guardian; the Lord is your shade” (Psalm 121:5),  they believed, receiving bread from the Father’s ravens. 

The prophets and ascetics in salvation history demonstrate with their own lives that the kingdom of heaven is not of this world, but begins in the human heart. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” was the motto of the desert. In a world of measurable distances, corners, edges and surfaces, we need not travel an inch to find the infinite space for the divine within the heart, the dwelling place of the Trinity.

In the blissful state of heavenly communion—when “all mine are thine, and thine are mine”—all persons will be freed from self-care, rejoicing in the glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can begin today by trusting in the Lord to provide for our needs and those of the whole world.

-GMC

2nd Sunday of Advent: “Go with Joy”

In the time of Jesus pilgrims from Galilee came up to Jerusalem a number of ways. Many came down the Jordan Valley, a journey of 90 miles. When they reached the city of Jericho they turned eastward onto a steep, winding road that ascended for 3500 feet and 15 miles to the city of Jerusalem. A picture taken from an airplane in the 1930s shows that winding, climbing road through the desert. It had to be the hardest part of their journey.Jericho Rd  3
Jericho road modern

Now travelers go that route in air-conditioned buses. It took ancient travelers four days. Not it’s a few hours.

The bible sees the journey to Jerusalem, especially the last part up that steep winding desert road as a symbol of our journey to God. We’re pilgrims on our way, The way’s still hard, even with air-conditioned buses.

John the Baptist preached where that winding, climbing road began. His father, Zachariah, a priest in the temple in Jerusalem, told him at his birth: “You, my child shall be called a prophet of the most high, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.” (Luke 1)

John invited weary pilgrims into the refreshing waters of the Jordan river, that they might be strengthened for the journey.

John Baptist preaching

Last week readings warned about falling asleep through complacency and laziness. This week readings remind us the day by day journey can tire us,  Life can wear us out, even a life doing good.

Then, unexpected things, like sickness, failures and disappointments, come along, robbing our energy. The parable of the Good Samaritan happened on this road to Jerusalem. Unexpected things happen.

John the Baptist, and the Prophet Isaiah before him, spoke to weary pilgrims. “‘Comfort, give comfort to my people,’ says the Lord…They spoke words of hope to those on the way:

With God’s help, the winding, climbing, wearying road becomes a highway; every valley  filled in, every mountain and hill made low, the rugged land  made plain, the crooked way straight.

The Lord is ” a shepherd feeding his flock, in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care.” (Isaiah 40: 1-5,9-11) So don’t be afraid.

Advent is a beautiful season. “Go up with joy to the house of the Lord.”

Complaining in the Desert


The Israelites were not at their best in the desert. The food was certainly better in Egypt, but complaints about food was just one of their gripes. They also complained about Moses, who led them, and Moses complained to God about the grumbling people he’s called to lead:

‘“Why do you treat your servant so badly?” Moses asked the LORD.
“Why are you so displeased with me that you burden me with all this people?
Was it I who conceived all this people? Or was it I who gave them birth,
that you tell me to carry them at my bosom, like a foster father carrying an infant,
to the land you have promised under oath to their fathers?
Where can I get meat to give to all this people? For they are crying to me,
‘Give us meat for our food.’
I cannot carry all this people by myself, for they are too heavy for me.
If this is the way you will deal with me, then please do me the favor of killing me at once, so that I need no longer face this distress.”’ (Leviticus 11, 11-15)

You can’t speak more “face to face” to God than that. That’s one thing we learn from the Old Testament: you can complain to God. The Jews did it in the desert, we can do it too.

I forget the ratio, but I think the psalms of lament (complaints) in the Old Testament are only slightly less than psalms of thanksgiving. God doesn’t mind complaints.

1st Sunday of Lent

Lent 1
Today’s Readings
for Swahili

Sunday Readings

When Mao Zedong was supreme ruler of China from 1949-1976, he regularly sent young recruits for the Communist party on what was called the “Long March”– an 8,000 mile journey through some of the toughest parts of western China that Mao and his army took in 1935 to evade their enemies. That march made them into a strong fighting force that eventually conquered China. Mao believed young recruits would learn to be good Communists by retracing the way he and his soldiers went in 1935.

Lent is our “Long March.” For 40 days, we retrace the journey Jesus took to his death and resurrection. We begin in the Jordan Valley, where the gospels and the earliest accounts from the Acts of the Apostles say that Jesus began his ministry. He entered the Jordan River to be baptized by John; the heavens opened and God the Father declared: “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” Here’s the One I’m sending you, the Messiah, listen to him.The Jordan wilderness was one of the places the Jews looked for the Messiah to appear.

The Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove. Then, the Spirit led him into the wilderness to begin the first steps of his journey and for 40 days Jesus was tempted by the devil.

He was tempted to be a Messiah of another kind. Live another life instead of the life God wants you to live, Satan says. In the desert Satan “offers Jesus another messianic way, far from God’s plan, because it passes through power, success, dominion and not through the total gift on the Cross. This is an alternative messianism of power, of success, not the messianism of gift and selfless love.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Lenten Reflection 2012)

Matthew’s gospel offers an interesting summary of Jesus’ temptations. “Turn these stones into bread,” Satan says. “You’re above the ordinary laws of life. You don’t have to get hungry or tired or sick or die like other human beings. You’re superman.” From a mountain, Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. “Here’s political power,” Satan says. “You’re an ideal political candidate; they will fall at your feet. You can always be popular and they’ll flock to your side.” From the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, Satan says “Throw yourself down; you can have religious power. You can even tell God what to do.”

Aren’t we tempted like that too? We like to control things, to snap our fingers and have stones become bread; we like things to run smoothly and have the world on our side; we even like to control God. His great wish is “ his will be done, his kingdom come.” Our temptation is “my will, my kingdom come.”

The gospels say the temptations of Jesus lasted for 40 days. Then, according to Mark’s gospel:

“After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.’”

Jesus followed John the Baptist and the way of the prophets. He went, not to Jerusalem the center of religious and political power, but to Galilee to proclaim the gospel of God to a people who “live in darkness and the shadow of death.” He taught and did great works, but his journey was not easy; it was still a wilderness where he faced again the temptations he faced in the desert. His temptations were not over after 40 days. They continued into Galilee and then in Jerusalem where he died on the Cross. He still got hungry and tired. He still was tested to give up his mission as Messiah. His journey wasn’t easy; it was a long march.

In Lent we make the Long March. But remember, it’s a Long March with Jesus. We go and live in his grace, as children of God.

The saints, our examples and guides, were tempted like Jesus in their lives too. Here’s St. Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionists, describing the temptations he faced not once, but often: “I was dry, distracted and tempted. I had to force myself to stay at prayer. I was tempted to gluttony and seized with hunger. I felt the cold more than usual and wanted some relief, and on that account I wanted to flee from prayer. By the grace of God, my spirit held out, but the violence and assaults kept coming both from my flesh and the devil.” (Spiritual Diary, December 10-13)

Swahili
Lent

Jumapili ya Kwanza ya Kwaresima Matayo 4: 1-11
Padre Evans Fwamba Cp
Ingawa maandiko matakatifu yasema, Yesu alichugua ubinadam wetu akawa kama sisi kwa kila namna isipokuwa dhambi. Mara nyingi tunavutwa kumuona yuko tofauti na sisi. Tunamuona kama anayetenda miujiza, mwalimu wa uhakika, Bwana wa yasiyowezekana. Lakini tunapomuangalia Kristu jangwani tunamuona akiwa mchovu, mnyonge, na kuhangaika katika mazingira magumu na hatari. Tunajiuliza na kutafakari, je maisha yake yalikuwa hivi kwa kiasi kikubwa?Nasi pia wanadamu hapa duniani ni kama tuko jangwani. Tunapitia yale yote Yesu aliyoyapitia, vishawishi.

Tunatafakari jinsi Yesu alivyojaribiwa jangwani. Kwanza, tukifikiri juu ya maisha ya uhitaji aliyoyaishi, hasa katika utume wake. Watu walimletea matatizo na mahangaiko yao, tunamuona kipofu kando ya barabara akiomba kuponywa, mtu aliyepooza aliyeshushwa kutoka darini, mwanamke aliyebembeleza ili binti yake apone, na wagonjwa wengi waliokuja kwake kila wakati. Je Yesu Kristo alichoka kutenda mema? La hasha, hakuchoka kutenda mema. Nasi pia tusichoke kutenda yaliyomema.

Jaribio la kwanza la Yesu jangwani ni shetani anamshawishi abadili jiwe liwe mkate. Ni jaribio ambalo linataka Yesu atumie uwezo na nguvu zake kwa manufaa yake mwenyewe, ubinafsi. Lakini nguvu ya kufanya miujiza ni kwa ajili ya wengine na utukufu wa mungu si manufaa yake mwenyewe.

Nasi pia tunajaribiwa kutumia mamlaka, nguvu zetu kwa ajili ya manufaa yetu. Mfano Daudi anatumia mamlaka yake na kulala na mke wa mwenzake 2Sam 11:1-27, Binti ya Herodi anatumia vibaya kibaji chake cha kucheza kwa kutaka kichwa cha Yohane Mbatizaji Marko 6:14-29. Je zile nafasi na uwezo mungu ametujalia katika jamii tunazitumiaje? Na vipaji vyetu mbali mbali tunavitumia je?

Mtakatifu Paulo Wa Msalaba alijua kujaribiwa kwake ni katika maisha ya kawaida na kwenye sala, anasema alikuwa amekauka kiroho, kusumbuliwa na kujaribiwa ili aache kutafakari juu ya mateso ya kristu. Alijaribiwa kuwa mlafi na kupatwa na njaa, alipigwa na baridi sana na kutamani kutoroka sala. Lakini kwa neema ya mungu aliweza kustahimili hayo yote. Tunapokuwa na shida kwenye maisha yetu ya kawaida na sala zetu tunatoroka au tunaomba neema za mungu tustahimili?……..