John 1:19-28 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight *the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
*Or ‘crying out, ‘In the wilderness make straight’
I was caught by the difference between “A voice crying out in the wilderness,” and “a voice crying out, “in the wilderness make straight”.”
I thought, “What difference does it make?” but I kept feeling that somehow it did.
Yesterday I went on a hike that was very familiar to me twenty years ago. I tried to cut across the switchbacks to find the upper part of the trail. I like to climb straight up hills. The terrain was very steep, with aspens and scrub interspersed with stands of evergreens. I went a long way without ever crossing the trail I was looking for. I tried to ‘make the way straight’ but it just wasn’t going to happen. I ended up going back down, following my own tracks down the steep hill, until I came back to the place I had left the trail.
I was trying to make a ‘straight’ way, but to do so I had to get off the winding trail and be a pathfinder. There was no-one around, there were no voices in the wilderness within earshot. I was alone. I couldn’t figure out where I had gone wrong until afterward when I went and looked at the satellite map on Google. I had not gone far enough down the marked trail, so the switchback I was looking for was still way to the north of me.
The thing about going off the trail in the wilderness, is that there is almost always a reason why the usual trail is crooked. In steep terrain, it’s crooked to make it less steep. It winds about to make it easier if a traveler wants to carry a lot of stuff, maybe in a wagon or cart, or in a larger group of people.
A straight trail, one that departs from the customary path, is often one that has to be traveled alone. It’s risky. It takes the adventurer into the unknown. The destination is the same, but the way to get there isn’t anything that can be predicted. To make a straight path means to take chances; to abandon expectations; to give up all the safe bets.
So if you take the quote out of Isaiah (after all, that’s who John was quoting) it says, “in the wilderness, make God’s way straight.”
off the seasoned trail
the world turns suddenly wild.
Silent, solitary, watchful;
making straight for journey's end;
no path visible
before or behind—
only the ground underfoot,
the sky above,
and the wind from the heights.