It would be a good thing if every morning you were to make, out of love for our Lord, two commitments. First is an act acceptance of all the afflictions you might have to bear during the day. Second is renunciation of all the temptations of the devil and all the feelings of self love and other passions that may come upon you during the day. — St. John Eudes
You have seen them. They come around in the summer in the more rural reaches of the country along state highways that go from there to there with nowhere in between. They do not travel the interstate system because they are on foot or on their bicycles. They are the folks who cross the country to make a point.
Most of them really waste their time. So, you crossed America by bike to raise awareness for the disappearance of the passenger pigeon or what not. If no local TV station or your church magazine picks you up doing it, it will be a silent protest in the dark. At least you had a nice summer vacation and lots of pictures to show for it.
At some point there seemed to have been a number of people who “carried” crosses across America. “Carried” because they had small caster wheel at the foot so it would drag easy. They were harder to ignore, since they were making a visible statement after all. A bike, no matter what the sign or flag you have on it, and you can only fly a sign of limited size, is still just a bike. A dude dragging a cross is a statement that needs few signs if any.
But why is he doing it? Is it all about you? Is he trying to get you to think, feel, or do something? Or maybe his reasons are personal and complicated? Or maybe it is all about him? A stunt he realized, as he was walking US Highway 2 somewhere around the Montana North Dakota border, that had gone horribly awry but he could not bring himself to let it go?
I seem to remember that Forest Gump started to run out of a sense of confusion, frustration, and grief and just kept on running. Everyone thought he was making a profound social statement but he was doing it, by his own words, for no particular reason, though crowds gathered around him and adored him, hoping he would speak eventually. What a great commentary on the jogging craze of the 1980’s that was. Or the entirety of the 1980’s for that matter and just about any self-pity-for-being-a-successful-rock-star Jackson Brown song, beginning with “Running on Empty,” I digress, I know, but I loathe Jackson Brown. Mad fads become religion much too often, including walking, biking, or wearing kilts for a cause. Sometimes a guy running coast to coast is just doing it for reasons too deep even for him to understand.
Anyone who wants to talk about: “Prophetic action,” needs to watch Forest Gump first. Then tell me again how what you are proposing is not a matter of repeating an insane tale told by an idiot. (Shakespeare)
We will have two weeks to consider the person of John the Baptist. If all St. John did was to be a crazy nutcase who preached fiery sermons in the wilderness, who urged people to take ceremonial washings in the Jordan River and who reminded people of Elijah then St. John failed miserably.
St. Mark has a sparse recollection of John. He is that Elijah type personality by Mark’s telling. He lives in wild places. No, he eats in wild places. He eats the food of the desert. Whether he is an exclusive desert dweller is unknown. He makes it close enough to town to arouse the curiosity of Herod. He comes close enough to Herod to offend him with an ethical challenge concerning Herod’s marital arrangements.
Yet, he eats the food of the desert as if to say: Even in these barren places the Lord provides. He wears the coat of camel hair as if to say: in spite of all the good fine craftsmanship of weaver and seamstress God weaves and sows the finest of garments right before your eyes, even on the backs of unclean animals, (Lev 11:14) a garment not as noble as the fleece of the ram but it is enough. He wears a leather belt around his waist as if to say: I am ready, be it journey or battle that comes next.
For now, what we know is that he gathered people in the deserted places, that he taught about the impending arrival of the Lord, and that he invited to a ceremonial washing. His message here is very simple: Messiah is coming. Today and next week, John will make sure that you not mistake him for the one who is to come but that you understand that he is but a voice in the wilderness shouting: Messiah is coming! Be ready.
With that, St. John, presides over the baptism of Jesus and then is not heard of again until the story of his death is recalled in Mark 6. That story recalls for us that he was a preacher of righteousness. He had challenged Herod on matters of Hebrew law and he paid the price of having done so. That story is surrounded by tales of mission by the disciples and the recalling of the feeding of the 5000.
In a way, John is like the guy who drags a cross across the upper tiers of the US along Highway 2. Enigmatic. A shape that passes, says little, may be noticed in Minot on a slow news day, but falls over the eastern horizon not to be seen again. Why did he do this? What was the motive? What was the cost? What was the reward? What did it matter? What, in the end, did it accomplish?
If John asks himself that question on his last day in prison as Herodias (Mk 6:22) is dancing for the court, what would he say to himself? Had it been worth it? Had it been a mad tale this life of his? Raw power was about to make things right for itself and the headless body of John the Baptist would be a silent witness in a black dungeon of the evils that power does.
What if among all the waiting for the coming of the Lord, we too perish? Maybe not violently but perish nonetheless, quietly after years of unseen labor in the deserted places, labor that will not be recorded in the books of the great and mighty, labor that may only be recorded in fragile hearts, mortal themselves and not a permanent writing surface by any means?
Last week’s texts asked us to consider a cataclysmic event. An external thing is going to happen as the Lord comes to gather his own and bring in the redemption of all that is and has been.
This week might call us to internal spaces. What is a life of waiting entail for us? How do we live within ourselves? I noted St. John’s attitude as shown in his attire and diet. We could ask ourselves if we do indeed trust in the richness of God’s providence. That is a hard pill to swallow sometimes, but so are locusts. What I want and what God’s supplies might differ, but his people are not abandoned even now as they wait. It might be grasshoppers and honey and camel hide but that is enough. When waiting for one greater than us to come, humility is a needed trait. When doing what the Spirit compels us to do, humility is even more important. When the Spirit moves it is best for us to accept that we might just sink over the horizon into obscurity so that we might decrease and the Lord might increase. (John 3:30) Yes, that is another locust to swallow. Recognition is ever so rewarding and ever so damaging to spirit and mission.
I saw him between Berwick and Denbigh on a hot July afternoon. I knew he would be in Rugby by evening. I met him at the city’s edge at about 8pm. He was a man of few words. He was a kind and peaceful. He would have stayed in the city park if I had not met him. I put him up at the motel. He preferred to be by himself that way. I fed him breakfast next morning at the diner across the highway. We hardly spoke. It seemed that it was the way that he preferred it. To this day I do not know why it was important to pull a 8 foot cross across America. I am not sure he fully knew either. It was complicated. He slipped out of town going east over the horizon toward Lakota, Devil’s Lake and the Red River.
“Why do you put up traveling vagrants!? We have better things to do with the ministerium funds.” “You can have the treasurer job back any time you like.” “I did my time. No thanks! Don’t be taken in by these frauds any more. I am tired of these people.” “It was complicated.” The oak of Marme and the wisdom of serpents in the innocence of doves were debated in combative tones.
Yes, he may have been nuts. But something inside led him into the wilds beyond the eastern horizon. So it may well have been with John. Whatever it was, he was content, at peace, and of kind heart. So may we all.