Good News All the Way
A blog by Rich Harter
Director of Evangelization
Archdiocese of Milwaukee
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. He went throughout [the] whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
He said to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance; and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”
Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people. Now Herod the tetrarch, who had been censured by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil deeds Herod had committed, added still another to these by [also] putting John in prison.(Luke 3: 1-20)
You’re making your way down the road on your usual route, plenty of time to reach your destination, and then you see the sign that makes your heart sink: “Detour Ahead.” You hope it’s not true, but soon the orange barrels start whizzing by, the lanes narrow, and the road is closed. The truth sinks in. The contours of the familiar road are being totally reshaped, so you need to find a new way to go. Your life takes a detour.
The same thing happens to us on the road of discipleship. We tend to travel a path that is familiar and comfortable. We think we know where we are going and how to get there. We like to set the direction for our lives. But then a prophet like John the Baptist shows up, right in the middle of our journey, crying out, “Prepare the way of the Lord: Detour Ahead!” Apparently our normal road is closed.
John challenges us with the uncomfortable truth that our easy road to Jesus is under construction. The valleys are being filled, the mountains made low, the curves made straight, and the rough spots made smooth. We are no longer setting the direction. We need to take a different path. John sends us down the new road of repentance and conversion. Faced with this uncharted detour, we naturally ask, “What then should we do?”
The Good News is that we have John to guide us on our detour toward Jesus. His directions are clear. Give your extra clothes, food, and possessions to those who have none. Don’t cheat others out of what is rightfully theirs. Don’t practice extortion, don’t falsely accuse anyone, and be happy with what you have. John emphatically shows us the way to the Mighty One and His life of Spirit and fire.
John the Baptist is the GPS for faithful disciples. Follow his way. Bear good fruit. The stakes are high for not doing so. Don’t risk becoming eternally lost! Dare to take the detour ahead!
Let us prepare the way of the Lord and make straight his paths!