Picture John the Baptist and the image you should have in mind is pretty strange. The Gospels tell us that he dressed in camel skin, ate locusts and lived in the wilderness. Sounds more like an episode of I’m a Celebrity than the story of one of the most important men in the history of our salvation.
John the Baptist was different – he must have stuck out in a crowd and some people must have thought he was mad. But he was also courageous and unashamed about telling others what he knew to be true. He drew huge crowds and convinced them to change their lives by repenting of their sins and being baptised. He started pointing people to Jesus before anyone else had even heard of Him. He was a disciple way before it was cool.
Of course, it only takes a quick look at the Gospels to see that John got into trouble for the message he proclaimed. John was beheaded after telling King Herod to stop breaking God’s commandments by being with his brother’s wife. It seems telling the truth can get you into trouble.
And yet the crowds had still flocked to John even though he had quite a ‘strange’ lifestyle. (That said, is anyone else slightly curious to know what locusts actually taste like?). Despite the seemingly odd things John wore and ate, people were attracted to the message they heard: they knew it was the truth. After all, the truth is attractive and beautiful.
There’s a lot we can learn from John the Baptist. As Catholics today, we live in a society that mostly doesn’t follow Jesus and often seems to pay no attention to what God might be saying to us. It can be quite a scary idea to start telling others what we believe to be true, knowing that they are unlikely to see things the same way as us. But the truth is always appealing. When others see you are striving to live an authentically Christian life, centred on God, it can actually make the Gospel message seem far more appealing. Suddenly ‘religion’ stops being that abstract thing they know very little about and instead they see how your relationship with God makes your life far more fulfilling, far more beautiful and far more joyful.
John the Baptist wasn’t afraid to follow Christ and to bring other people to Him as well. Perhaps we can imitate some of his courage and some of his ability to be different in a world that doesn’t always see things the same way as we do.