My Dear Friends! In the Gospel we hear about John the Baptist’s activity in the Jordan district. The area where John was preaching reminds of that biblical refuge march which began in Egypt, when Israelites were freed from their slavery, and was to finish in the Promised Land. However what those people were seeing while standing at the banks of the Jordan River, which stood still to let them cross it over, was the steep rocky desert they had to climb on the other side of the river. The Jordan Valley is a beautiful and fertile land while the westward way leads away from that lovely valley to the harsh environment of Judea. To visualise it better let’s imagine this situation: Some people are coming to Melbourne or Sydney but they are told not to settle down there but to go west some five hundred miles. I think even Australia wouldn’t be attractive to refuges anymore. So why did God tell his people to go to the land which was to present some significant challenge to their settling? Because God doesn’t lure people using some economic measures etc. God doesn’t bribe people to believe him. If we reflect on the benefit for following God, for being obedient to him it is God himself. He is the benefit; the very fact that he reaches out to us with his mercy and grace.
The Israelites and we, Christians, are not the only people believing in God but the God we believe and to whom we surrender our lives is the God who wants to be in a relationship with us. He wants it so much that he gave his only Son, Jesus Christ who became a human being in order to enable us to have such a relationship with God. The Bible teaches us that: “We cannot love God whom we cannot see if we don’t love people whom we can see.” In the first place it applies to Jesus Christ; he is the person we love so that our love for God doesn’t end up abstract or theoretical. God became a human being, as we are human beings, so that we can concretise our love by moving it out of our heads, where it can be limited to some ideas, and making choices in our daily life which reflect our attachment to Jesus. What John the Baptist preached on the banks of the Jordan was repentance which totally changes our thinking, particularly in our relationship with God. It is not a business like relationship which aims at giving the partner something in order to get something else.
The changed thinking, the repentance we are called to by the Baptist opens us to placing our life in God’s hands with trust and confidence because as we read in the Second Letter to Timothy “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” I follow God not because he is going to make my life easy and cosy but because he can make it meaningful and relevant.
The changed thinking, the repentance we are called to by the Baptist opens us to understanding our sins not in the juridical way but as betrayal of the love of the Father who gives me more than my temporary expectations. He sends his only Son, whom he loves so much, so that I can be loved by him and love him too. I go to Reconciliation not to obtain a juridical clearance cancelling my faults but I approach this moment of grace and mercy like the Prodigal Son who discovered that the love of his Father didn’t change and that what shook him to the core of his being.
My Dear Friends! If you feel that your life doesn’t look like the Promised Land think about Joshua and his compatriots crossing the Jordan and marching westward into the desert. If God is there that all that matters. May metanoia – the repentance preached by the Baptist keep developing in us so that we can truly believe that the benefit for following God is God himself.