Sunday, 17 December 2017

John the Baptist’s lessons for today

ON June 24, the Church celebrated the birth of John the Baptist. Did you or your church?

ON June 24, the Church celebrated the birth of John the Baptist. Did you or your church?

And what do you really know about John the Baptist (apart from the church down the road taking the name of St John) and the relevance of his teaching for the 21st century?

Firstly, all that we know about St John is from the Christian gospels. He was the son of the temple priest Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth, who was a cousin of the blessed virgin Mary.

But nothing is heard of him until he begins his mission of preaching and baptising in the river Jordan.

His way of life was rather like the Old Testament prophets: his diet was locusts and honey.

His message was repentance and the preparation of the coming of Jesus Christ and among his disciples were Peter and Andrew.

What is important for us to know is that John baptised Jesus and recognised him as the Messiah. Later Jesus was to praise St John, saying that there was no son greater than John.

Perhaps what we may just remember is that St John denounced King Herod, who had him beheaded because of a promise Herod made at his birthday party.

In the UK in the middle ages John the Baptist was immensely popular and some 496 churches were dedicated in his honour.

Of his many patronages we may have heard of the Knights Hospitallers whose primary task was to guard the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem and to protect pilgrims going to and from the Holy Land.

Nearer to us in Henley an artist has painted John the Baptist in Chalgrove church while artists the world over have expressed St John both as a prophet and a baptiser.

What 21st century Christians need to accept and teach boldly is that St John the Baptist taught the need for repentance that we each have to make.

Equally important is his preaching to the people of his time about the task of preparation for the coming of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God.

This is a vital task for the mission of the Church everywhere in our present day, when the state has failed in its work and the Church now has to recover a wide ministry of education and compassion.

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