St. John the Baptist, in today’s Gospel, compares himself to God’s angel spoken of by the Prophet Isaiah. Let me tell you about Isaiah’s angel from the time of the Babylonian Captivity.
In 600 B.C. the army of Babylon made captives of all the people of Jerusalem, leading them off to work at building dikes for the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Those captives died in Babylon, as did most of their children. Then, seventy years later, in 530 B.C. Persia conquered Babylon, setting the Israelites free, telling them they could return to rebuild Jerusalem.
But the grandchildren of the original captives from Jerusalem didn’t know the way back. They were afraid of finding their way through strange and wild lands. But God sent them an angel, a messenger promising to make the way smooth and straight for them. He said, “I will go before you, preparing the way.
John the Baptist came along six centuries later, telling the people that God’s messenger back then had just been an image of him. He had been sent to prepare the way not just for straggling Jews, but for the Lord himself.