In today’s reading at Mass from John’s gospel, Jewish officials and Pharisees from Jerusalem send representatives to John the Baptist as he’s baptizing in the Jordan River near Jericho asking “Who are you?” “Are you the Messiah, Elijah, the Prophet?” “Why are you baptizing?”
“I’m not the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet,” John answers. “I am the voice crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord. ’” John knew who he was and who he was not, and he wasn’t afraid to be the one God wanted him to be.
John could have followed his father, Zechariah, as a priest in the temple at Jerusalem, a role passed on from father to son. But John chose a different course. God led him another way.
We don’t know when, but John went down to the Jordan Valley where the road ascended to Jerusalem, and preached to and baptized the crowds going up to Jerusalem to the temple of the Lord. The clothes he wore, his style of life set him apart from everyone else.
John didn’t care how he looked or what people thought of him. He certainly didn’t choose an easy place to be, a desert place. Later, Jesus praised his strength and determination.
To know who you are, you need to listen to God’s call, and evidently John did that. To speak the truth courageously, you need to depend on God’s strength, and evidently John did that too. He became a voice for God, even if he sounds at times like a drill sergeant readying people for the battle of the last days. He said unpopular things to powerful people and faced the consequences. Herod Antipas, who ruled Galilee and Perea, arrested him and put him to death.
We’re like John whenever we ask God, “Who am I?” and listen for an answer. We’re like him whenever we use bravely the voice God gives us.