It is sometimes difficult to understand the appeal of someone like John the Baptist. Who would want to go into the wilderness to hear some religious fanatic tell us to repent so that our sins might be forgiven?
In our own lives, it is often an extraordinary event or situation that impels us to seek God in a more personal way. Some of these are happy events, such as getting married or having a child; some, though, are situations that involve much suffering, such as sickness, unemployment, or the death of a loved one.
So it is that in today’s gospel, the people who come to John the Baptist to seek God are in difficult situations. Both groups mentioned—tax collectors and soldiers—were despised by their own people, who considered them unredeemable sinners. But these are the very ones who come to John to repent, to be baptized, and to ask how they can live justly.
This, then, is a gospel of hope: if even dishonest tax collectors and traitorous soldiers may be forgiven and may live justly, what hope there is for us! What hope for us, even in the most difficult situations we might encounter. And what hope for us when we remember that John prepares the way for the One to come—through whom, with whom, and in whom we celebrate, in hope, our Eucharist today.
Rev. Armand Mercier, OFM