Back to John the Baptist’s testimony

I’m just delighted to say that I’m still working on John 1:19-28, in prep for December when I’m the layreader and hope to do this in storytelling mode. So one prep for that is to simply say it over and over, playing with the emphasize on words, the speed, the timing. It could be a sort of mechanical thing to just get the words learned by heart; but it can be a surprising thing as meanings and nuances appear from hearing the words and from the repetition of the words. On my recent scary business travel, I even would say it just mentally, so to speak, as I was falling asleep, a sort of prayer.

Here’s one thing that came up: John the Baptist says, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness/make straight the way of the Lord”. He’s saying God is directing his actions, his words. His call for repentance/baptism is coming straight from God.

Yet the priests and Levites who are questioning him don’t respond to that part at all. We are told, “Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.” And we already knew a few verses early they came from Jerusalem. They are asking John the Baptist questions based on human authority.

So should they have sat up and paid attention to John’s “irregular” authority? Doesn’t God trump the Pharisees? How human and ancient is the temptation to put God sort of in a box “up there” and think “here and now I need to stay alive, do my job, pay the rent”. The Pharisees were not going to be happy with the results of the testimony so far. So the Priests and the Levites didn’t really listen to the answers they were getting, consider what God might be wanting them to hear, and pressed on for answers that would fit their script, which was “what will make the Pharisees happy with me”.

What will make God happy with us? If they had listened to the message to prepare the way of the Lord, what might they have done? If they had just heard “repent/change/focus on God” as the message, in the midst of the clean desert air, the cool water, the big sky away from Jerusalem, could they have let go of their fear of not pleasing the boss? Do we live from fear more than live to make God happy with us? What sort of images did that last sentence bring you — doing good deeds, helping the helpless, working hard at what you love to work hard at, being mindful of beauty all around us, creating beauty, caring for our neighbor…. and so on? Or did you think “make God happy” would be the same as living in fear of making a mistake?

Because myself, I’m not sure … fear seems so incredibly embedded in my life. I’m going to take baby steps away from fear and hope I don’t backslide!


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