Why I Love St. John the Baptist

I love John the most because he was a passionate, courageous follower of Jesus and he died for testifying to the truth.

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist,” ca. 1869
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist,” ca. 1869 (photo: Public Domain)

I’ve always loved St. John the Baptist dearly, largely because the connection between him and Jesus is so strong. The Gospels tell us Jesus is the light coming into the world, and also tell us John was sent to testify to this light. He and Jesus are cousins, who first meet when they are babies in the womb. Most of all, I love John because he was a passionate, courageous follower of Jesus, and he died for testifying to the truth. 

One of the most stirring passages in the Gospels occurs when the Archangel Gabriel visits Mary and tells her she will bear a son and call him Jesus (Luke 1:26-38). The angel also tells her that her cousin, Elizabeth, who is past child-bearing age, is already six months pregnant! Mary immediately rushes to visit her cousin, no doubt to share the news about the angel’s visit, and also to witness this other wondrous pregnancy. As soon as Mary arrives, Elizabeth greets her in the most lyrical way: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” 

Elizabeth says the baby in her own womb prompted her to speak — and this baby, of course, is John. Elizabeth adds that at the sound of Mary’s voice, “the infant in my womb leaped for joy.” 

This first meeting between John and Jesus is a compelling testimony to the preciousness of life in the womb. After all, an unborn baby is first to express joy at the presence of the Messiah! Mary remains with Elizabeth about three months, so it is highly likely she was present at John’s birth, as was the Christ Child in her womb. Right from the start, John was blessed in a very special way. 

We are told John dwelled in the desert, and he sounds like one of the first hermits, living a bare-bones existence and devoting himself to prayer. Dwelling in the desert meant putting up with harsh weather conditions and fending off wild animals. It meant going without home-cooked meals, shelter and easy access to water. Not surprisingly, some people thought John was demon-possessed, since he dressed in animal skins and dined on locusts and honey, rather than food and wine. 

John certainly didn’t mince words as a preacher. He called his listeners a “brood of vipers” and warned them that trees that didn’t produce good fruit would be cut down and burned. When people asked him for guidance, he talked about unselfishness — sharing their clothing and food with others. He told the tax collectors to stop the ugly practice of cheating people out of money, which went into their own coffers. It seems John was such an impressive preacher, some people thought he was the Messiah, until he set them straight. “One mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.” 

When John is in Bethany and sees Jesus walking along, he calls out, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Just as he recognized the Messiah in the womb, now John makes a public testimony about Jesus as the Savior of the world. The next day, John praises Jesus again, and his words inspire the men standing nearby to follow Jesus, and to become his apostles. 

John’s habit of speaking the truth got him tossed into prison by King Herod, who had married his brother’s wife, Herodias, after she and the brother divorced. John didn’t hesitate to tell Herod this wasn’t a lawful marriage — and as a result Herodias hated John. 

While John was in prison, Herod threw himself a lavish birthday party, attended by the leading men of Galilee. After Herodias’ daughter Salome performed a dance that delighted him, he impulsively promised to grant her any wish. The girl’s bloodthirsty mother told her daughter to ask for John’s head on a platter. The king was “deeply distressed,” as well he should have been, since he considered John a holy man, but he was too cowardly to back down in front of everyone. 

And so the horrible promise was granted, and soon the bloody head on a platter was given to the girl, who handed it to her mother. There is only one line mentioning Jesus’ reaction to John’s death, but it is filled with emotion. “When Jesus heard of it, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” At other times, Jesus went to quiet places to pray, so it’s likely he now sought solace in prayer. Since he wept when his friend Lazarus died, I imagine Jesus also weeping over the terrible, senseless loss of this holy man. 

As we commemorate the passion and death of St. John the Baptist, let’s pray to have his courage in standing up for the truth of the Gospel. Let’s also pray to be strong witnesses to the preciousness of life in the womb, and to the holiness of marriage. St. John the Baptist, I love you dearly! Please pray for us!