In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea (and) saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: "A voice of one crying out in the desert, 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.'" . . . At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. (Matthew 3:1-7)
John the Baptist strikes me as a no-nonsense kind of a guy, not one to mince words, and certainly not one to retreat from speaking truth, even to powerful religious leaders and politicians. But what further interests me in this account of the Lord’s baptism is Jesus’ silence about John’s rhetoric. Nowhere in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism does the Lord tell John to tone down his rhetoric.
When John called the religious leaders a “brood of vipers” Jesus didn’t suggest John be more tolerant. More pluralistic. Less divisive. Yet, Jesus was quick to rebuke His disciples many times when they said or did something wrong. For example, He rebuffed them when they tried to stop parents from bringing their children to Him (Mark 10:13-15); and when they wanted to call fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans (Luke 9:53-55); and when Peter chastened the Lord because of Jesus’ comment of His impending death (Matthew 16:21-23).
But with John the Baptist, we have no record of such a rebuke by the Lord. Not even when John warned Herod against adultery do we find Jesus warning him to moderate his words.
We haven’t any record because Jesus obviously approved of John’s faithful proclamation of truth – even though He knew the Baptist would soon be imprisoned for his truth-telling, and would lose his life because of it.
As I mused over this Jordan scene, my mind switched to recent news events surrounding the upcoming May 2010 National Day of Prayer. A well-known Christian, son of another well-known Christian, has been like a voice crying in America’s growing spiritual and moral wilderness. And it seems some people objected to Franklin Graham’s rhetoric -- and had him removed from the list of invited speakers to pray at the Pentagon.
Thankfully, Graham is not the only one calling America to make straight paths for the Lord. Others like Chuck Colson, Archbishop Chaput of Colorado, Fr. John Corapi, Fr. Frank Pavone, James Dobson – and hundreds of thousands of lesser-known men and women who, without fanfare or notoriety -- in their workplaces, schools, neighborhoods -- faithfully proclaim their Christian faith every day, refusing to mince words when speaking of sin or evil. They are Christians who stand boldly for Christ and His Church’s moral imperatives, even if doing so labels them intolerant and divisive and offends social activists, politicians, government officials, or other religions.
We can thank God every day for gracing America with such resolute and passionate modern-day obedient servants of Jesus Christ.
Jesus spoke well of John the Baptist, whose life illustrated a person whose heart stayed fixed on serving God (Matthew 11:11). Surely, too, the Lord speaks well of every Christian who is daily fixed on the gospel of holiness and fearlessly proclaims Christ as humanity’s only means of salvation (see Romans 1:16).
Jesus did not mince words when He warned, "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38). And it would not surprise me if, while recognizing the imperative of obedience to Christ – when it would be easier to capitulate to fear or compromise – Pope Pius XI wrote this prayer:
O most benign Jesus . . . [grant] by that great gift of final perseverance, to keep us most faithful until death in our duty and in Thy service, so that at length we may all come to that fatherland, where Thou with the Father and the Holy Ghost live and reign with God for ever and ever. Amen.