John The Baptist
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming
after me . . . he will baptize you with fire.”
One of the truest rock ‘n roll songs I know is AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.” It’s an anthem of excess that screams, If “livin’ easy, livin’ free” lands me in hell, so be it. “My friends are gonna be there too.”
That song is a good example of why the threat of hellfire doesn’t work. People who feel threatened for wrongs they’ve done aren’t motivated to choose love instead. Divine condemnation just reinforces their tendency to be their own worst judge. Maybe I don’t fit in heaven…. maybe I’d just be happier in hell.
John the Baptist appears in the desert preaching a message of red-hot judgment. The coming messiah, he says, will baptize with fire. But when Jesus comes, all he does is tell people how much God loves them. No exceptions. He has the perfect opportunity to make good on John’s fiery words when obvious sinners come to him—the ones so bad they were cast out of religious society. But these turn out to be the people Jesus wants to be with, wants to have over for dinner.
John saw all this and wondered if this Jesus was actually the messiah he predicted. How could John have known that the messianic flame would be the fire of love?
Jesus knew that we easily accept condemnation and judgment. What we need help accepting is great love because we don’t feel we deserve it. Often people who don’t receive love as a child believe it is because they are not worthy. The message of Jesus, the one that burns like fire, is: God loves you, and you are worthy of all the love in the world.
Prayer: Too easily, Lord, we believe in our own judgment; help us to accept the eternal gift of your love, to know it is ours…to give away. Amen.
If you’d like each day’s reflection to drop in your inbox click here.