Accompanying Herod: Why did People Go out in the Wilderness to See John the Baptist?
“Did you find everything you were looking for?”
I remember the first time I heard that question. I had been looking around that store for what seemed to be hours. At one point, I asked a clerk in the store to help and they had to go get some help. They never returned.
As I stood there, staring at the shelf where the thing should be, as if, by force of will, it would appear, I would have existential moments. Asking myself how the store stays open when no one works in it. Asking myself if I should even shop in that store.
“No,” I said. “I wanted this thing and there was someone who disappeared when I asked for it. Nobody seems to work back there.”
“Let me see if I can help.” The cashier then walked back with me to the aisle. We both stood there and stared. The cashier must have been trapped in the vortex of existential quandaries also. It was apparent that the cashier was trying to help, but didn’t know how.
“It’s OK, see what I mean though? there’s no one back here. I want to check out now.”
When we got back to the register, the cashier had to stop herself when she began the script again and started to ask if I found everything.
We laughed. I had not found everything I sought, but there was no way to solve that. Anymore, I’ve noticed almost every store asks this at checkout. They all seem to ask if you found everything you needed. I have a canned response: “I don’t know, I think I did… I won’t be sure until I get home.” That usually gets a laugh and some story about how you never realize the missing thing until you get home. Some lecture me on the value of making lists. (if they only knew)
That’s what posting online is like sometimes… Only after you see something you wrote do you realize you missed the “big thing.”
Just like getting home from the grocery store and putting things in the refrigerator reveals that you forgot to buy the roast/juice/half and half/etc. Smack your forehead, and scramble for Plan B, or go back to the store. That’s what happened when I saw my post this morning on St. John the Baptist and the Church of Wussies. I forgot two big things.
Did you Enjoy your Activities in the Worship Space Today?I wrote that story about the stores because I think it overlays nicely on the theme though. The cashier stuck asking a scripted question, just out of habit, is a lot like our wussy mealymouthed accommodations today. We seem to be stuck asking people nice questions. Being polite. Quaint. Did you enjoy your activities in our worship space today? Surveys are in the pews. Join the liturgy committee to suggest ways we can improve.
None of that does anything though. Just like the cashier that got stuck in the mode of staring at the empty space on the shelf.
(Worse, as Fr. Rutler has joked in the past, many people come into modern churches bereft of a tabernacle, and are left like the women at the tomb. They have taken away Our Lord and we don’t know to where. Fortunately, many churches have returned the tabernacle to the main church front and center.)
It is focusing on something unimportant. It sounds nice, and it’s meant to people please, but it is empty.
John the Baptist Didn’t Go to the Margins (they came to him)
St. John the Baptist was animated by a desire to proclaim the coming of Our Lord. He focused on getting people ready to know Jesus. To prepare the way for people to find Jesus.
Our Lord asked the crowd what they went out to see in the wilderness (the margins?):
 And when the messengers of John were departed, he began to speak to the multitudes concerning John. What went ye out into the desert to see? a reed shaken with the wind?  But what went you out to see? a man clothed in soft garments? Behold they that are in costly apparel and live delicately, are in the houses of kings.
 But what went you out to see? a prophet? Yea, I say to you, and more than a prophet.  This is he of whom it is written: Behold I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.
I love that metaphor — “a reed shaken in the wind.” You know what that means — was John important because he was “with the times?” no. John was not with fashion, either. He was not in a slick silk suit. He wasn’t in a megachurch in the city square. He didn’t have a bunch of small faith groups focused on helping people find what they are looking for.
Rather, he wore camel hair. He was far away from people… in the wilderness, even. But, get the point: people had to go to him. Did John seek out Herod and accompany him? No. Herod had to send men out to pick up John.
Accompaniment Does not Convert Herod, Pharisees, or any People, Repentance does
Herod listened to John, too, because he believed John was holy. But, John did not rush to Herod and play pattycake with him and ask Herod to describe the pains of trying to be a divorced and remarried despot. John was not asking Herod if he found everything in his teaching. John was hauled in by force. He was detained in jail.
It’s pretty clear that had John fawned on Herod and “accompanied him”, Herod would have likely had no respect for him. Instead, John told Herod what was true: Herod was married to another — divorce did not make him unmarried.
And what about what Jesus said of John’s role. He was greater than a prophet! He prepared the way for Our Lord. Herod did not ask John to change what he said. Herod did not ask for baptism. But Herod knew what John said was true. He failed to repent. Oddly, Herod did not ask for the road to be bent to accommodate him.
Some might say that maybe Herod would have done that had John met Herod on the margins and accompanied him. They’d still be arguing over what was right. Herod thought he found what he was looking for in John. But he was too cowardly to repent. Herod was a bit like MacBeth after the fact when he was convinced that John the Baptist had risen from the dead.
But the focus of John was to prepare the way for another: for Jesus. Herod could not see that Jesus was what he was looking for. If the cashier asked Herod if he found what he was looking for, he’d have said “yes, and I killed it because I don’t think I will like it.”
Our goal is the same as John’s — tell people what they will find in God and how to get it.
We find out that the pharisees did not get baptized. Did John chase them down and accompany them? No. Had the cashier asked them if they found what they were looking for, I guess they’d say “no” emphatically. Nobody was going to help them find what they were looking for. They were sufficient unto themselves. They lacked repentance. Eventually, they’d kill Our Lord because He wasn’t what they were looking for. They heard John, though. They heard Jesus, too. Neither John nor Jesus “bent God” in order to accommodate the pharisees and get them on board.
The rest of the people recognized that they were sinners, and John had the way for them to find God. They found more than they were looking for.
Those who were willing to repent found out that God was wiling to straighten out all those crooked nooks and crannies of life distorted by sin. They found out that salvation only requires them to give up sin. These people found a solution to evil! It was good news!
God is Not a Reed Bending in the Wind
The focus today is backwards, it seems. We try to bend God in order to make the sinner straight. John didn’t do that.
That’s what was apparent to me after I saw the post published this morning: John converted sinners by proclaiming the good news that God can make sinners straight. Today, we seem to be proclaiming that we can bend God to make sinners look straight. We’ve got it all backwards. There’s no “good news” in feel good. Worse, feel good doesn’t open up that straight path to the Lord.
The other thing that was apparent to me was that I did not give a citation for my claim that Rome told people to stop the abuse of so-called eucharistic ministers in 1997. I went back and linked to that cite. It’s in this post from a while ago.
St. John the Baptist would not have been beheaded by Herod had John “accompanied” him. But then again, none of those people would have gone out to the desert to hear John had he been changing what God said based on who was asking, either.
St. John the Baptist, pray for us!
This article, Accompanying Herod: Why did People Go out in the Wilderness to See John the Baptist? is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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