Today’s reading is Matthew 3. Matthew recounts how John the Baptist was in the Wilderness, preaching and baptizing. It also shares about how John baptizes Jesus, albeit not without some hesitation at first.
John the Baptist interests me a lot. From a human perspective, it seems he could be seen as an embarrassing figure. Let’s go ahead and look more in depth.
Before I read this today, I hadn’t considered John the Baptist. I was happy accepting him as the prophesied voice in the wilderness. You know, the image you got from Sunday School as a kid. But today’s reading formed this mental image in my head. By standards of the time, he was a weird dude. The description of him in verses 4 shows a guy who was not at all into fashion. His diet of locusts and honey was odd enough to mention, too.
If he were alive today, John would probably have a resume that would make Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey rapturous. The crowds back then loved him.
But imagine how embarrassing it could be to be around him. John did weird stuff. His message was charged and divisive. Sure, he was popular with the normal people. His message of repentance and coming change was inspirational. But he was super anti-establishment. The Pharisees and the Sadducees mentioned in verses 7 though 10 weren’t just curious members of their respective schools of thought. These guys were most likely the Movers and Shakers, the ones who made the rules.
They weren’t at the River Jordan to repent; they were there to check out the competition.
The sad thing is, I feel like I’m very much like those the Pharisees and the Sadducees. I’d like to think that I have a good knowledge of the Word. I’ve been the small group leader, the retreat speaker, and the missionary in a foreign land. I’ve led the worship, preached the sermon, and made sure the technology went off without a hitch. I’ve even gone to scout out other churches. I am the Establishment.
If I were there, I’d definitely be a Hypocrite or a Sadducee. No bones about it. How dare this weird guy try to humiliate me in front of this crowd calling me a viper? How dare he insult my pedigree? How dare he claim that I need to repent—there’s nothing wrong with me! Outrageous!
But I need to reframe my thinking on this. How much of John’s delivery was meant by God to set up Christ’s sacrifice? Over and over again, God had his prophets deliver a word to someone with the foreknowledge that the recipients wouldn’t listen. Moses was an example, as was Micaiah. If John hadn’t been the voice challenging the religious authorities, would they have paid as much attention to Jesus?
The greatest part of the whole story to me occurs when Jesus comes to be baptized. God on Earth went to the weird guy in the desert for the Commissioning of his Work. All throughout his Mission, Jesus affirmed John’s statement in verse 2: “The Kingdom of God is near.” Just a few chapters later (spoilers, darling), Jesus gives the Sermon on the Mount, featuring the Beatitudes. In my opinion, you could say that this is Jesus’s Manifesto of the Marginalized.
God chose to use John as not only a prophet preparing the way, but as an example of who makes up the kingdom of heaven. It’s not the cool kids, the glitzy ones who know how to impress the people and work the system. It’s those who you wouldn’t pay attention to. The humble. The meek. The weird. The one I should aspire to be.
Dear Lord, thank you for the example of John. He’s a great example of the kind of person your followers should be – wild in love with your work and not caring of who may be watching. Please soften my heart so I can move more in line with your vision of what my life should be. Amen.