In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea (and) saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:1-2).
As I meditated on the first luminous mystery of the Rosary – the baptism of Jesus – I wondered why the religious and political leaders came to the Jordan. Many of them had little use for the common people, especially those like John the Baptist. And they often mocked the laity, saying of them “But this crowd which does not know the law are accursed;”* and “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?”**
So I sat there, fingering the Rosary bead, and wondered.
Perhaps they hoped to make points with the people whom they, in fact, disdained; to fool them into believing they were just as religious as the commoners. Perhaps they came to be part of the new religious club John was establishing. To get in on the ground floor, so to speak.
Whatever the reason, John the Baptist would have none of it. “You brood of vipers!” He called them. “Who warned you to flee God’s wrath? If you really want to be saved, do things that prove your repentance. Otherwise, you’re wasting my time and piling up more judgment to yourselves.”***
From the way the context reads (Matthew 3:1-12), John didn’t mince words. He didn't soften his tone. He didn't try to be inoffensive.
He knew the kindest thing he could say to them was truth – even when the truth was confrontational. To do otherwise would have done nothing less than help them remain in their sin – and condemn them to judgment. And I would not be surprised if John remembered the words of Jeremiah centuries earlier, “Your prophets have seen for you false and foolish visions; and they have not exposed your iniquity so as to restore you from captivity . . .” (Lamentations 2:14).
Oh, how I long for the time when all of our pastors exercise the spirit of St. John the Baptist, and speak truth – even when truth is confrontational. I long for them all to say “no,” every time phonies, even political and religious leaders, come for the sacraments without evidence of repentance.
Otherwise, how will they escape the wrath of God?
* John 7:49
** John 9:34
*** See Matthew 3:7-12