ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST AND HONEY-SPICED LOCUST & ZEPPOLE
St. John the Baptist, Bernardo Strozzi, 1620
St. John the Baptist was born six months before Jesus Christ on June 24 early in the first century A.D., in Herodian, Judea. John, a relative of Jesus, was known for baptizing in water for the forgiveness of sins. He’s also remembered as the prophet who introduced Jesus to the world in their own time. John was beheaded by King Herod Antipas soon after Jesus began his public ministry (31-36 A.D. depending on the calendar) in Machaerus, Perea.
St. John is honored in Anglican (including Episcopal) Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Aglipayan, and Assyrian churches, as well as in the Mandeanism, Bahái, and Islamic faiths. He’s the patron saint of the Knights Hospitaller of Jerusalem, Jordan, Puerto Rico, French Canada, Newfoundland, Florence and Genoa in Italy, and many other places. Although Roman Catholics also celebrate the date of his death (as we do with most saints) on August 29, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist on June 24 is the more commonly celebrated feast day throughout the world.
We have two main sources of historical documents on the life of St. John the Baptist, a book called JEWISH ANTIQUITIES by Romano-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus written around 93 A.D., and the gospels. The gospels are so chock full of narrative about St. John the Baptist, that I’ll have to sum up most of it because blog posts are supposed to be short. (I am trying.)
In Luke 1:5-25, the birth of John the Baptist was foretold to his father, Zachariah, a prominent priest, in the temple, by Gabriel the Archangel. Zachariah expressed disbelief that his elderly, barren wife could become pregnant. For his lack of faith, Zachariah was struck dumb until the prediction came true.
Six months later, Gabriel made the Annunciation to Mary that she was to be the mother of the Son of God.
Mary then traveled to visit her relative Elizabeth:
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” — Luke 1:41-42
Later (in Luke 1:57-66), eight days after Elizabeth gave birth, at the circumcision ceremony, the people said it was proper to name the baby after his father. Zechariah motioned for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And immediately thereafter he could speak and he prophesied:
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.” — Luke 1:76-77
John’s parents prepared him to be a holy man by serving him no wine or bread. Historians believed he joined the Essenes, one of the three Jewish sects that was much smaller than the Pharisees and Sadducees sects. Essenes lived and prayed communally and were dedicated to asceticism, voluntary poverty, and daily immersion. It’s quite possible that John was part of a group located in the desert.
In those days, John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ ”
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locust and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor, for I tell you, God is able from these stories to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees: every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
I baptize you with the water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear the threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. — Matthew 3:1-17
St. John the Baptist Baptizes the People, Nicolas Poussin, 1635
In other words, don’t fake your repentance. Someone much more powerful than me will be here soon, and he’ll know whose repentance is real and whose is just for show and unworthy of heaven.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” — Matthew 3:13-17
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
(His) two disciples heard him say this and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”
They said to him, “Rabbi, (which translated means Teacher) where are you staying?”
He said to them, “Come and see.” — John 1:35-39
And they followed him.
After this, Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean Countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aeon near Salim because water was abundant there: and people kept coming and were being baptized — John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.
Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. They came to John’s disciples and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”
John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” — John 3:22-30
Soon after John was arrested by soldiers of King Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who threatened the baby Jesus and killed the Holy Innocents.
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. — Matthew 4:12
John’s disciples visited him in prison and told him of all of Jesus’s healing miracles. It seems likely that John was discouraged in prison and had been relying on Jesus to change the world immediately. He sent messengers to Jesus to ask if he was really the Messiah or if that was someone else.
Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen, and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” — Luke 7:20-23
Jesus explained that John’s expectations of him are different than what He’s to do on earth. Yet, his actions are done without insult to John. He then praises John for all to hear:
“What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’
Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. Let anyone with ears listen! — Matthew 11:8-19
In reciting scripture, Jesus showed that John’s presence along side his own connects the Old Testament prophesies to the reality of the New Testament.
Why was John in prison?
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed: and yet he liked to listen to him.
But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet to his courtiers and officers and leaders of Galilee. When his (step-daughter/niece, Salome) came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask of me. I will give you, even half of my kingdom.”
She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?”
She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.”
Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for his guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately, the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.
When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. — Mark 6:17-29
(Flavius Josephus wrote because Herod Antipas had divorced his first wife, the daughter of King Aretas of Damascus, a war with Damascus soon broke out. Herod’s army was destroyed and many believed it was a just punishment from God for killing John the Baptist.)
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowd heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. — Matthew 13:13-14
It’s a good thing to read all the gospels to get to the whole story of a particular event. I’ve posted twice about the Feeding of the Five Thousand from the perspective of St. Andrew the Apostle and St. Philip the Apostle, but I didn’t notice this important transition between Jesus’s act of grief over one whom he held in such high esteem and his miraculous feeding of the crowd.
Jesus grieved. Then, he got back to his works. And then, perhaps in honor of John’s memory, he took his works to the next level.
Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. — Collect, Book of Common Prayer
For More Info:
BUTLER’S LIVES OF THE SAINTS: COMPLETE EDITION, Volumes II and III, revised and Edited by Herbert J. Thurston, S.J. and Donald Attwater
LIVES OF THE SAINTS by Richard P. McBrien
BRIGHTEST AND BEST: A COMPANION TO THE LESSER FEASTS AND FASTS by Sam Portaro
STARS IN A DARK WORLD: STORIES OF THE SAINTS AND HOLY DAYS OF THE LITURGY by F. John-Julian, OJN
I originally chose to study the life of St. John the Baptist because he’s my son Don’s birthday saint, and today (6/24/2014) is Don’s eighteenth birthday. Just like St. John the Baptist, Don has little patience for vice and insincerity.
But as always happens when I study the life of a particular saint, I learned something completely different from what I expected. St. John the Baptist was indeed a learned man, a powerful prophet, and a holy martyr for Christ. Yet, by digging deeper we find more than the saintly human being. Just as St. John would want us to, we find God.
It’s in the bit after Jesus answered the messengers of John from prison, He went on to sing John’s praises and announced that John was the greatest person on earth. That’s a joyous thing – to really know God is pleased with you because He actually said it aloud.
Would some of us seek external validation from anyone and everyone so feverishly if we heard these words about ourselves from the mouth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?
Here’s the thing, God says it to each and every one of us all the time – in Baptism when we enter the Communion of Saints, in the breaking of the Bread and the sharing of Holy Eurcharist, in the sunrise and the sunset, in the flutter of a butterfly and the glide of a pterodactyl, in the yellow dandelion and the red sequoia, in the smallest shrimp and the largest leviathan, and in the eyes of the cutest baby boy glancing out at you from your full-grown son.
God’s saying it to us all the time, “To me, you are the greatest person on earth, and I love you.”
Take a deep breath, slowly let it out, and listen.
In honor of St. John the Baptist, let’s make:
Photo and recipe from The Inn at the Crossroads
Locusts, other types of grasshoppers, and crickets are considered an excellent source of protein and are regularly consumed in many parts of the world. As Princess Jazira says in the movie, Hidalgo, “Fear not the locusts. They are a gift from above. Not a plague, as you might believe.”
¼ cup butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cleaned grasshoppers
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, mixed in with the honey
Purchase box of live grasshoppers from a reputable online source. For more information, see Girl Meets Bug, the blog of Daniella Martin, author of EDIBLE: AN ADVENTURE INTO THE WORLD OF INSECTS AND THE LAST GREAT HOPE TO SAVE THE PLANET (an excellent gift for new graduates).
Pay for overnight shipping so grasshoppers can purge but will still be alive when they reach you. Place unopened box directly in freezer for 24 hours.
Rinse grasshoppers. Remove head and legs of each – optional, but highly recommended.
Melt butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the grasshoppers and salt, stir gently for around 10 minutes.
When the grasshoppers are suitably crisped, drizzle the spiced honey over them and stir a bit more.
Spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake for 10 minutes at 200 degrees F. until grasshoppers are no longer quite so sticky.
What’s that I hear? Is it my dearworthy readers saying, “You’ve got to be kidding?”
Heck yeah, I’m kidding. There is no way on God’s green earth . . . at least not yet.
I’m pretty sure St. John the Baptist is fine with us honoring him with traditional Italian:
HONEY-GLAZED ZEPPOLE (Doughnuts)
(More photos below.)
About 2 quarts vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 cup ricotta cheese
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup honey
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Stir in eggs, ricotta cheese, and vanilla. Mix gently with spoon until blended into a sticky batter.
Heat oil in a deep-fryer to 375 degrees F. Or use a large sauce pot over medium heat. The oil should measure about two inches in depth. If you do not have a deep-fry thermometer, roll up a small piece of bread and drop in hot oil to test the temperature. When bread ball attracts lots of bubbles, it’s ready.
Carefully, drop batter by tablespoons into the hot oil, about five or six per batch. Watch astounded as the zeppole plunge to the bottom, rise up, and turn themselves over a few times. (Sometimes they need a nudge with a spoon.)
Fry until golden brown, about four or five minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a tray with two layers of paper towels to drain.
Whisk honey, water, and cinnamon in medium pot over medium-high heat until glaze comes to a boil. Remove pan from heat.
Dip warm zeppole into honey glaze with a slotted spoon and pile onto a platter.
Best served warm. (The fried zeppole can rest for up to 6 hours on the counter before dipping into the hot honey and still be absolutely scrumptious.)
(Originally posted on 6/23/2014 to Saints and Recipes on Blogger.)