(June 7)

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven is taken by force, and the forceful claim it.” (Mt 11: 12)

Such was the excitement engendered by the preaching of John the Baptist, who proclaimed in the wilderness of Judea that the Kingdom of Heaven is “at hand” (Mt 3: 2), that people of all walks of life were taking it “by force.” Even the people who had been made “outsiders” to the “city” that was the religion of their fathers, by the gate-keepers who were the religious elites like the Pharisees and scribes, were now breaking down its man-made walls and taking it by storm. John was also calling them to “repentance,” that is, to a change of mind or of focus. This was a hopeful message, because it meant that change was possible, for each and every one of them.

John was preaching outside the “city” and outside the comfort-zone of the religious authorities, poking holes in their elitist presumptions, saying things like, “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” (Mt 3: 9) But he was not just poking holes. He was paving the way for Christ’s call to “all the nations,” and not just one people or elite group. And this forceful voice of God, this “voice crying out in the wilderness,” was what awakened the long-dormant desire for salvation in so many people in “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan,” who flocked to John in the wilderness, to confess their sins and be baptized.

Still today, we both confront and create obstacles, sometimes unwittingly, to our deep-seated, human desire for “salvation,” which is a “return home,” or a return to wholeness or oneness with God. And the merely-human voices in our “city” might often drown out God’s distant-yet-forceful voice, crying out to us from “the wilderness.” But this morning let me listen up, and tune back in, both to God’s call, and to my desire to “return home.” This morning I don’t just walk, no, I run, back into the arms of my loving God, confessing my sins and letting Him immerse me in His grace. And I do this forcefully, regardless of what anyone, including me, thinks about my “unworthiness.” Because the kingdom of heaven is taken by force, and the forceful claim it.