In the distance can be seen a hazily verdant belt following the path of an invisible water course, but here there is nothing but desert. The mellow golds and indistinct browns of rock and earth meld into a muddy blur under the ceaseless heat of a malevolent sun. Barren outcroppings of rock erupt carelessly over the land, as though a playful child had tossed his blocks about. Only in the shadow of the rocks, and in the deepest part of the ravines is there any hint of escape from the heat of afternoon.
So it is that here a man walks, intent on an invisible purpose. To say that the man is an individual of vague qualities is an understatement. He is of average height, with a long, sandy, uncombed, vermin-filled beard. His body is totally covered, to all appearances perpetually covered, with the grime of the desert; and it would be difficult indeed to say if he had ever bathed. The man is preceded and followed by the offensive odor of unwashed body and rotting teeth, mingled with the stench of lice-filled skins with which he is negligently clothed.
Such is the man, and so he walks, muttering almost constantly to himself, with periodic ejaculations (whether of surprise, anger, or joy cannot be said, for his expression is one of outward detachment). His purpose is quite obviously the water course in the distance, for at periodic intervals he raises his eyes, straining for sight of the distant verdure. That his journey is vital to him is also obvious, for he journeys with only brief intervals of rest, and with no stopping for food or water through the chill of desert night.
Arriving finally at the water’s edge in the early hours of the morning, he is gradually surrounded by a crowd of the curious. Some – the poor, the forsaken, the despised, the lepers – look at him with a sense of camaraderie, mingled with awe, for he has joined their ranks voluntarily. Others – the well-dressed, the “correct,” the socially prominent – look at him with a sense of amused tolerance, laughing one to another deprecatingly, as if to say, “I’m only here to see the curiosity!” as indeed they are. There is yet a third class of people: “The poor in spirit,” some physically poor and beaten, some physically wealthy and successful; all searching for the Messiah.
The crowd waits expectantly for the Nazarene – for such he is – to speak. He does not disappoint them. “O, ye generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Many in the crowd look angrily one toward the other, with faces sanguinely suffused in anger. “Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance.” Many in the crowd leave in disgust, they came not here for rebuke, not they, who were used to being praised for their good deeds. But as many as left, stayed; their hearts truly touched by the hand of the Lord. And staying, they saw the Messiah. Seeing, they believed, unto life everlasting.
This filthy Nazarene was John the Baptist. He was but one man, coming out of the wilderness with the two-edged sword of the lord. He was the herald of a new age: the age of the Messiah. Many listened, many repented, many were saved. Yet many could not see past the lice crawling in his beard, many could not understand through the odor surrounding his body. Many hearts would not be touched by a creature so lowly.
I John the Baptist came out of the desert today, could you see the hand of God through the filth of His servant? Would your heart be touched? Can you, right now, see the Child of God in those of His servants less physically appealing – be that by nature or by life condition? Remember John the Baptist when you are repulsed by a fellow Christian. Remember the Pharisees, whose well-bred noses could not tolerate the smell of a servant of God.
It is not an easy task for us to see a person’s soul. Our senses corrupt the judgment of our hearts, crowding out reality. To see with the eyes of a Christian, is to have a sense of truth beyond factual reality.
Before you judge your fellow Christian, stop, and look at his soul. God is there.
Originally Published in:
Vol. 30 No. 3 May 1970