The Gospel calls our attention to the relationship between Jesus and his cousin, John the Baptist. They both were stellar performers on their century’s religious scene, and although some followers of John resented the sudden prominence of Jesus, John had disclaimed any rivalry with Jesus. Of Jesus he said, “He must increase, while I must decrease.” And he said that he was like a best man who rejoiced for his friend.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus reached five hundred and sixty years back in Jewish history for an image to describe John’s exalted role in God’s plan. Forgive me for giving an account of the ancient drama to which Jesus alluded.
We all know that the Jewish People were captives in Babylon for seventy years. Roughly, those years stretched from six hundred B.C. to five hundred and thirty years B.C.
What happened to free them in 530 B.C. was that Persia under King Cyrus II had conquered Babylon, declaring that the Jews were free to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their ancestral homes. We say, they were free; but actually, after the passage of seventy years those original exiles had been replaced by their grandchildren and their great grandchildren; and those people, having made lives for themselves in Babylon, were fearful of pulling up stakes for a month-long trek through wild places.
At that time God sent the people a great prophet whose name we have never learned. That prophet spoke God’s words in our first reading, He said, “Comfort, give comfort to my people , says their God.”
God told the people that he would be invisibly accompanying them. What is more, he would be sending his angel before the returning multitude. He would make the road smooth and straight for them.
For explaining John’s role in God’s marvelous plan for saving us through himself, Jesus said that John in like that angel, going before him, crying out, “Prepare the way of the Lord!”