Was John the Baptist a man of misgivings or a living torch of conviction? Let’s take a look at how the Gospels sketch him.
‘A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him’ (Jn 1:6–7). Numerous passages within the Gospel texts highlight the figure of St. John the Baptist in the most exalting terms.
The grandeur of his calling shines forth right from the start, in the narration of his elderly mother’s miraculous conceiving, his sanctification within her womb upon hearing the voice of the Virgin – precious tabernacle of the Lord – and his birth marked by extraordinary facts such as Zachary’s canticle.
We know little of the Baptist´s life before he started preaching; it is only revealed that he lived in the desert, clad in camel skins, and nourishing himself with locusts and wild honey (cf. Mt 3:4).
Leaving the desert and his contemplative existence there, he emerged, mysterious, among the people, and began to announce the coming of the Messiah. As the sole prophet to enjoy personal acquaintance with the Messiah, He closed the Old Testament with a golden key and hailed the New.
St. John prepared the way of the Lord, just as his father Zachary had prophesized (Lk 1:76), announcing the kingdom and, above all, calling to conversion. ‘As a testimony,’ John was set to untiringly, ‘testify to the light, so that all might believe through him’. ‘We can imagine the extraordinary impression that the figure and message of John the Baptist must have produced in the highly charged atmosphere of Jerusalem at that particular moment of history. At last there was a prophet again, and his life marked him out as such. God’s hand was at last plainly acting in history again. John baptizes with water, but one even greater, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, is already at the door’ (Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth. From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration).
His fame spread rapidly throughout Israel. Many thought him to be the Messiah; but John – in his utmost humility – didn’t hesitate to lower himself so that the Messiah might better shine before all. And if St. John the Baptist’s life, however briefly reviewed, doesn’t convince us of how extraordinary a man he was, we also have Jesus’ own testimony where the Gospels record him praising his Precursor (cf. Mt 11:11; 11: 7–15; Lk 7, 24–28, etc.).
This mystical, lofty and, above all, authentic image of the saint, venerated with particular devotion in the Church from the very first centuries onward, leaves absolutely no margin for the idea of a man beset by doubts and uncertainties, as some would like to paint him today… Here’s what does the Magisterium has to say…