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.


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)


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?……..