Some months, I’m in the mood for John the Baptist. I’m ready to go into the wilderness. I’ve got a file of recipes for locusts and wild honey. I’m in a daring mood—I’ll speak truth to the King Herods of the world, even if it means my head on a platter.
But much of the time, when John the Baptist shows up in the lectionary or when we celebrate his feast day on June 24 or when we talk about prophets in general, I’m weary. Most of the time, I'm tired of having prophets like John the Baptist call me part of a brood of vipers or comparing me to shrubbery that refuses to behave.
I know, I know, I have all these faults. Don't threaten me with that ax. I try so hard to bear good fruit, but I'm afraid it isn't enough. I'm surrounded by people who are clearly in a more crabby mood than I am, and I'm trying to be sympathetic, but it's hard. This attempt of mine to transform myself into a compassionate person is taking longer than I thought it would. I see people at work having meltdowns, and my response is to hide under my desk, metaphorically, although there are days that the thought of literally curling up under my desk is almost irresistible. I don't go to them to say, "What can I do to help you through this painful time?"
But let me return to the mission of the prophets. God does not send prophets because we’re all already damned. God sends prophets to call us back to the path we should be travelling.
On this day in June when we celebrate John the Baptist, it’s good to be reminded that I'm not my final, improved version of myself. I still have work to do. And I need to hear that message that the prophets bring us. I'm lazy and inclined to coast, and it's good to know that God has a vision for me that is vaster than any I could dream myself.
It’s also good to remind ourselves of who we are. I like the passages when John the Baptist is questioned about his identity. He says, “I am not the Messiah” (John 1:20). He could have hoodwinked people who were willing to believe he was the Messiah. He could have made a power grab. He could have gotten great wealth and women and audiences with powerful rulers.
Those temptations have led more than one religious leader astray.
But John knows who he is. He is not the Messiah. He has been sent to point the way to salvation, not to provide it.
Likewise, we are not called to be the Messiah, That doesn't mean we’re off the hook in terms of behavior. We can't say, "I am not the Messiah," and stay home on our sofas. We can’t decide to watch reruns of The Simpsons and do nothing about injustice in the world.
No, John the Baptist reminds us that we are called to emulate Jesus. Some days, though, I’d rather emulate somebody else. I’m so tired of working so hard to be a light to this fallen world.
When I feel that way, I need to listen to the words of John the Baptist again. I need to listen to God, who often calls to us from the wilderness. Most of us need to be reminded to listen to that call that God makes. Let the words fill our hearts with hope: "The crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God." (Luke 3: 5-6). Our salvation is at hand: our grieving hearts will be comforted, our anger and irritation will lift, the planet will heal itself as it always does, God will take care of us and everything we need is on its way, even if we’re not ready for deserts and locusts in our dedication.
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