This week’s lectionary reading from the Gospel of John, following on last week’s first encounter with John the Baptist in the Gospel of Mark; centers around John’s awareness of who he was, what his life’s purpose entailed and above all, whose story he proclaimed.
In some ways John the Baptist knew exactly who he was and what he was here to do. It was up to him to get on with his unique and very personal journey. Lucky guy you might say.
In John Chapter 1 verses 19 to 28, John the Baptist is really pressured by the priests and officials as to his identity…
He replies that he is neither the Messiah (long promised as the one who would redeem Israel from their Roman oppressors),
Nor Elijah, the Jewish prophet who saved Israel from being forced to worship a foreign and false god “Baal”.
He is not even an ordinary everyday prophet.
He is clearly driving the Pharisees mad as despite his seeming inability to self define, John the Baptist was still engaging in sacred activity, notably baptizing those who accepted his message. It seems that the world at large cannot quite place John the Baptist.
Not many of us relish the thought or indeed experience of being “put in our place”. Such an experience can more often than not be associated with control, someone shutting down conversation or alternative views. Being “put in our place” can be humiliating… the raised eyebrow, the dismissive joke, the outright correction, the dismissive put down.
John the Baptist never needed to be “put in his place”. He knew that his journey of self awareness/knowledge lay in being the proclaimer of the One to come, Christ Himself. He knew that his life had purpose because he was part of a much bigger story beyond what his life could contain. He had fulfillment (to the point of death) in doing his part in preparing others to encounter Christ.
John the Baptist was able to join the dots…
Self knowledge…knowing who he was. Knowing who he was not. His journey and purpose. Allowing himself to get caught up in a story that was eternal and bigger that he could ever imagine.
In an age of personal discovery and self help webinars by the (seeming) millions, maybe our best selves is to be found in the story we allow ourselves to get caught up into. For the pilgrim, that begins and ends, in the message of life found in Christ.