Bethabara: out of the wilderness of the heart

document attributed to John the Apostle. circa 95 AD:


I will never leave this island. As I write this I know that very soon I will see my Lord face to face once again. I think back to how it all began. Those days beside the Sea of Galilee seem like another lifetime. James and I made our living from that sea, barely. We were hot tempered young bucks then, full of animal spirits, ready to fight.

Living hand to mouth by the Sea, we blamed the priests, and the Romans, for our poverty. Many a time we went home with empty nets. Rachel, Miriam, the children, took it all in stride, not knowing that things could be different. Zebedee remembered when Herod burned our villages, but his fire and zeal for justice slowly died over time, squeezed between the Romans and the priests.

One day we heard rumors about a man, a prophet, said to be the spirit of Elijah, returned to earth. James and I went to hear him. There he was, standing knee deep in the river, all camelskins and wildness. Eyes like glowing coals that pierced the crowd like shafts of fire. So alive, so fierce, we felt ashamed of our weakness.Huge crowds gathered wherever he went, desperate for answers, desperate for a way out.

We called him the Baptizer. His presence and teaching showed us that there is a God who is beyond this suffering world, and if we purify ourselves, purify our hearts, we can know this too. We became his disciples. Yes, we ate locusts, but in that desert they were the size of crabs, and tasty too, when we roasted them.

John’s cleansing operated on many levels, took many forms. The baptism in the water was the first, symbolic stage. A commitment. The priests didn’t like that. They claimed complete control over any matters between God and man.

But John was fearless, even though he knew that threats against his life were real and deadly. Purity of heart was what counted, not how much we could pay the priests to gain favor with God.John, such an outlaw, such an outsider! Railing against the corruption of the priests, the tax collectors,the Romans. A judgement was coming, and even now God was walking among us here on earth.

One day a group of priests and Levites appeared to judge us. They said John had no authority to baptize. They wanted to shut him up, disperse the crowds. He was no rabbi, he was nothing but a charlatan, an uneducated pretender. Besides, he made people doubt the priesthood and the King. But they made a mistake in confronting John in front of the crowd. In their arrogance they thought their official costumes would intimidate the people. They demanded to know if he was Elijah, the messiah, a prophet. Since John claimed none of that they condemned him because he had no authority to teach or baptize.

John bellowed: “I am your conscience, the voice that cries out the wilderness, this desert. You hypocrites! You profit from the evil in high places while the people starve. Who are YOU? You are the ones who persecuted all the prophets who came before! You have no authority before man or God!”

The crowds went crazy. They wanted to tear the priests apart. The people knew the priests were on the side of the Romans, and cashing in with all the taxes. They knew God was not with them, but with John.

It was the next day that we saw Jesus. The Baptizer pointed him out. John said it was his mission to announce and identify the Word, the Logos, the primordial essence that was now walking on earth as an ordinary man.

The followed day changed our live forever. Andrew and I were standing with the Baptizer. We saw Jesus again, and again John said that this is the Lamb of God, the Son of God. At that moment something pulled Andrew and I and we started walking behind Jesus.

Jesus turned around. I’ll never forget the look on his face, that seemed to lock me in an eternal loving embrace, a smile from another world: “What are you looking for?” I knew he could read my thoughts, that my soul was an open book to him. Nevertheless, I stammered, “Where are you staying?”

He motioned with his hand, “Come and see.”

And so we stayed with the Master, in his tent, for the entire day. A day that is with me still, a living memory planted in my soul like a seed that has been growing all these years, until now my Lord is with me always, in my heart.

We sat on the ground, the three of us in that bare tent. Absolute peace descended upon us. Jesus, whether he spoke out loud or not, I couldn’t tell, offered us a future, He said his mission would cause much suffering and sacrifice to the followers of the Way. Images of the future appeared in my mind.  We would sacrifice, we would struggle. But Love and Life would be with us, and we would know that, in the end, death will be overcome, and all the tears will finally dry.







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