Summary: Whatever direction our spiritual life takes, can depend greatly on whether we are asleep or awake.
The Clock Radio and the Alarm Clock
When morning breaks and it’s time to rise and shine, is your clock radio set to stir you gently out of bed with soft music or are you rudely awakened and jarred out of bed with loud clanging noises of an alarm clock? And as much as you would like to hit that snooze button for a couple more minutes of sleep on the clock radio, the loudness of your alarm clock rudely forces you out of bed.
Well, whatever direction our spiritual life takes, can depend greatly on whether we are asleep or awake. For some people a gentle approach will awaken them to the fact that they are not on the right spiritual path to heaven. They will quickly realize this and change course. For others, more effort is needed to steer them in that direction.
Perhaps that is why God sent John the Baptist to proclaim the good news to the people. God didn’t send a clock radio that would play soft soothing music. He sent a loud clanging and rude-awakening alarm clock. He wanted to be sure that all the people were awake. He didn’t want them to hit the snooze button and miss the opportunity of getting the good news.
Ironically though, the louder and rougher John preached his message, the greater was the attraction for his presence. Someone once described him as a man more difficult to bend than cold steel. Perhaps that was why he was so popular. It certainly wasn’t for his mannerisms and his fashionable clothing.
In our day and age, John the Baptist would hardly be considered a candidate to preach to the elite in one of our cathedrals or city parishes. His appearance and his methods were far too rustic to attract anyone to his preaching. His abrupt manner would drive everyone from the Church. Quickly, there would be a petition circulating around to have him replaced.
But John didn’t care about appearances. He had a goal to meet and he set about doing it in the only way he knew how. He didn’t mince words. He didn’t use innuendos or double entendres to get his message across. He told it like it is.
It seems that the rougher he preached, the greater was the attraction for his preaching. And even though his preaching offended nearly everyone who heard him preach, they were still attracted to him. When some Roman soldiers asked him what they must do, he said to them, “No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your pay!” (Lk. 3:14 TNJB). To the tax collectors he said, “Exact no more than the appointed rate.” (Lk. 3:14 TNJB). To the rich and the greedy, he said, “Anyone who has two tunics must share with the one who has none, and anyone with something to eat must do the same.” (Lk. 3:11-12 TNJB). He was straight forward in his dealing with everyone.
If you wanted to hear him preach, you had to go into the wilderness. And when you got there, you would be greeted with words like, “Brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming retribution?” Produce fruit in keeping with repentance, and do not start telling yourself, “we have Abraham as our father,” (Lk 2:7-9 TNJB). Calling people who have come to listen to you preach “a brood of vipers” isn’t exactly a very pleasant way to greet anyone, is it? If a parish priest greeted his parishioners in this manner, his parish would soon be empty. Or would it? Some of the things we expect to happen sometimes go in a direction we least expect. Such was the case with John the Baptist.
People flocked in droves to hear John the Baptist preach. Perhaps the truthfulness that he preached in his sermons was like a breath of fresh air to those who were desperate for the truth. John’s courage would not allow him to give in to public opinion and cause him to water down his message. And even though the truth hurt the listeners, it was a blessing to hear the criticism. Because, it’s only by how others see us, can we discover what we are really like. Constructive criticism can be a great eye opener. How else could we correct our way of living if we didn’t look outside the box? Criticism indeed has its place in our lives. We just have to know how to take it.
Someone once said, “Don’t mind criticism. If it isn’t true, disregard it; if it’s unfair, keep from irritation; if it’s ignorant, smile; if it’s justified, learn from it.” (pp 164, Nelson Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations and Quotes)
Like John the Baptist, Charles Spurgeon also preached fire and brimstone sermons. For that, he was greatly criticized in the newspapers. Articles appeared regularly disapproving of his methods, his motives, his mannerisms, and his messages. He was made to look like a villain in cartoons, and caricatures. Several writers questioned whether he was even a Christian. Not long before he died, one of his friends came to visit him in his study and said, “Do you know, Mr. Spurgeon, some people think you are conceited.”