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. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” He said to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” But they said to him, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” Then he said, “Bring them here to me,” and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over—twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.Matthew 14:13-21
audio homily here:
John the Baptist may look and sound forbidding, but don’t let appearances put you off. He spoke in the wilderness, where looks are not important and you can’t keep up appearances. The wilderness symbolizes the hard places we all must pass through.
So we shouldn’t deny they exist. Or think a simple sentence will take them away. I suppose that’s why I prefer John the Baptist to Joel Osteen.
John’s father was Zachariah, a priest in the temple, a much more secure place to be. He told John: “You, my child shall be called the prophet of the most high, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.” (Luke 1) God called John to the wilderness to show people the way to God from there.
The Judean wilderness where John the Baptist baptized lay about 15 miles east of Jerusalem in the Jordan Valley north of the Dead Sea. Pilgrims from the north took an ancient road along the River Jordan and followed it as it veered right near the town of Jericho to ascend steeply about 3,500 feet up to the Holy City, about an 9 hour walk. A tough road in itself to travel.
Near where the road begins to ascend, John baptized great crowds in the river’s refreshing waters. He baptized Jesus and his disciples in these waters and then pointed Jesus out as “the Lamb of God” and told his followers to follow him as their Shepherd and Way.
John was a voice pointing Jesus out in the wilderness. He still points him out in the wilderness today and tells us to follow him. “You’ll make it through the wilderness,” he says.
music on John the Baptist.
The Old Testament readings this week, mostly from Isaiah, describe our journey through the desert as a hard journey, but the desert will bloom and a highway will be there, a holy way. (Monday) We’ll hear tender, comforting words as we go. (Tuesday) Those who hope in God will renew their strength, soaring on eagle’s wings. (Wednesday) We’re as insignificant as a worm, the prophet says, but God takes us in hand and says: “Fear not; I am with you.” (Thursday) God teaches us the way to go. (Friday) We meet prophets like Elijah and John on our way. (Saturday)
Above all, Jesus is our way, the gospel readings say. The paralyzed man lowered through the roof in Caphernaum got up and was ready to make the journey. He symbolizes paralyzed humanity enabled to walk again. (Monday) Jesus the good Shepherd searches for and finds the stray sheep. (Tuesday) “Come to me all who are weary…” he says. (Wednesday) We’ll find prophets and guides like John the Baptist and Elijah. (Thursday) Though rejected like John the Baptist, Jesus still teaches. He will always teach. (Friday) He saves us, even though he goes unrecognized like John and Elijah. (Saturday)
You can follow the daily readings here