Our Patron Saint: John the Baptist
John the Baptist’s mother, Elizabeth, was kinswoman to Mary, the mother of Jesus. John and Jesus were therefore cousins in some degree, with John some six months the older. His birth and mission as forerunner of the Christ were foretold to his father, Zechariah, whilst he was on duty in the temple. When Zechariah refused to believe the angel’s message – arguing that he and Elizabeth were childless and elderly – the angel, in what seems to have been a fit of heavenly pique – struck Zechariah dumb until the child was born.
We have no record of John’s doings in the next thirty years. When he grew up, though, he lived in the wild country by the river Jordan, eating locusts and honey, and dressed in animal skins in a strong echo of the ancient prophet Elijah. Indeed, there are Biblical references both in the Old Testament books of prophecy, and in the words of Jesus, to the return of Elijah before the coming of the Christ.
John preached a message of repentance in preparation for the coming of the Christ, God’s Anointed One. He told people that they should repent so that they would be forgiven, and to be baptised as a sign of being washed clean, and of dying to an old life and being born again into a new one – for his baptism was probably one of total immersion in the Jordan. Except, perhaps, for the dry season. This was a ceremony which had been used by the Jews since well before John’s time to welcome converts to their faith, so Christian baptism has a long pedigree back through John to the Old Testament.
When Jesus came to be baptised, John was reluctant, knowing whom he was, but Jesus insisted on identifying with humanity in this way. And Jesus’ first disciples had been disciples of John beforehand; John pointed them on the way from him to Jesus. These early transfers included Simon Peter, who was brought to Jesus by his brother Andrew.
As Jesus became better known, John slipped into the background. He was imprisoned by Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee. Herod had taken his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias, for himself and John was outspoken about the rank immorality of this. Herod did not want to harm John, for he recognised him as a prophet. Not so Herodias. By a trick at his birthday party, she got Herod to grant a favour to her daughter Salome, who had danced well for his guests. She asked for the head of John the Baptist – on a platter!
The promise was fulfilled, and John's disciples came to take his body away for burial. We remember him as the last of the prophets of the Old Testament style, ushering in a new world where everything became different with the coming of the Son of God into human life.