John the Baptist is a common figure in gospel readings throughout Advent—after all, who would be a better guide through the season than the biblical poster child for repentance, paving the way for the coming of Christ?
At first, this reading is easily interpreted as another warning to repent before it’s too late, but let’s dig a little deeper. First, let’s look at John the Baptist and his presence in the gospels. Through his message of repentance, John is often seen as someone paving the way for the ‘new’ that Jesus will bring. The Pharisees and Sadducees in the bible, who also appear in this reading, are often representatives of the old religious and social elite, respectively. John warns them that their status as children of Abraham will not be enough to earn their salvation, and that their actions need to reflect their words, because “the one who follows me is more powerful than I am.”
Even if we’re boiling this reading down to a metaphor about actions speaking louder than words, it can be an uncomfortable read. John is portrayed as wild and naturalistic, wearing camel fur and eating foraged food—while we can rest easy knowing we aren’t the Pharisees and Sadducees, we’re also strongly reminded that we’re no John the Baptist either. While I’m not arguing that we need to eat locusts and wear primitive clothing, I do think that we’re being encouraged to reflect on our own actions and ensure that they match what we say. In what ways can we improve our actions so that they might better match the message of justice we preach? And how can we be more like John, in our own personal ways, or through ISN’s Advent Simplicity Challenge this year?
AJ Rowe joined the Ignatian Solidarity Network staff in 2021 as digital communications coordinator. He grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and received a Jesuit education through both high school and college, graduating from John Carroll University in 2021.