Born: Late first century BC
FEast: June 24th
Jordan, Puerto Rico, Baptism, rivers, messengers
John's story is not only disputed between the Gospel writers, but between historians and researchers as well. So little is known about his life, and yet he had such an enormous impact on so many people that he is revered in many world religions today.
Only the Gospel of Luke says that John was Jesus' relative, the son of Mary's cousin Elizabeth. The story of St. Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah's announcement of John's birth by an angel when Elizabeth was too old mirrors the Old Testament story of Hannah and her son Samuel, and also resembles the traditional story of St. Anne as well. Luke's version of John's birth goes that when the angel told Zechariah, he did not believe and so he was given the punishment of not being able to speak until John was born. John's name was also given to Zechariah by the angel. Luke also describes a meeting between Mary and Elizabeth while both were pregnant that has come to be known as the Visitation. Elizabeth described feeling John leap in her womb when Mary approached, giving her a sign that John had even recognized Jesus then as the son of God.
Not much is known of John's life until he began his ministry around the year 30AD. He could have been involved with a group called the Essenes that could have inspired him in his simplistic and deviating lifestyle. Likely, he spent much time alone in solitude in the desert in prayer and contemplation.
John was known to wear only the skins of animals, living in the desert and surviving off of honey and locusts. His work was telling of a coming Messiah - criticizing religious authorities and telling sinners to repent to get ready for him. This was related by the Gospel writers back to Old Testament prophecies of a voice in the desert calling for repentance to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. The books range in how much importance is given to John, however, from being an extremely holy Elijah figure to simply a good preacher. He baptized people in the river once they decided to follow him and live good lives. He did this until the day Jesus showed up and asked John to baptize him. In some of the Gospels, John doesn't yet seem to know who Jesus is, but in John's Gospel, he recognizes Jesus immediately and asks Jesus to baptize him instead. He had been telling his followers that one would be coming who was greater than him, and he sees this is Jesus.
Then, again slightly varying in each Gospel, light or a dove came down from the sky over Jesus and a voice said "This is my son, in whom I am well pleased."
John is not really mentioned again after Jesus' baptism until is is said that he was arrested. Many of John's followers had flocked to follow Jesus instead, including Peter and Andrew. He was imprisoned by King Herod, but some accounts describe that Herod actually found John to be both interesting and holy and did not want to kill him. John also had such a large group of followers that Herod worried that his death would provoke them against him. Other accounts tell a story, though, that John had spoken out against the king's illegal divorce and re-marriage, so, after his step-daughter performed a beautiful dance and he promised her anything in return, his new wife told the daughter to ask for John's head.
Other accounts say that John was simply martyred or blamed for losses in Herod's soldiers' battles and then killed.
People did not understand you; what you chose to wear and eat, or where you chose to live. And though you were convinced it was what you were meant for, I’m sure it was hard and lonely sometimes. Let us not judge others (and love them anyway) and keep us as strong in our beliefs as you were.
I kept within the tradition of portraying John as very thin, shirtless, and with lots of hair - which are all details well-grounded within historical narratives of him. He has cross and shell (symbolizing baptism) tattoos, and his neck is mostly obscured in symbolism of the type of death he is traditionally associated with. His expression is downcast but he holds his head high, representing the likely very tough life he lived despite knowing what it was all for and being proud of that.