Karoline Lewis here has quite the insightful essay (2011) about John the Baptist and Jesus…. and identity and us. Whew! Especially this paragraph:
But even in these obdurate negatives John identifies himself in, through, and by his relationship with Jesus. Whereas Jesus defines himself as “I AM,” John is clear to say, “I am not.” He is not the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet. He is not the light that shines in the darkness. Yet, even in his resolute claims about who he is not, who he is and why he is here is defined by and inseparable from the presence of the Word made flesh in his midst. He knows nothing but to articulate his identity in connection to Jesus’ identity. Can we make similar claims about our purpose? Can we respond to “who are you?” with the same indivisibility with God and all that God wants us to be? Can we locate our identity as intimately with Jesus?
I did not see that John is “not” and Jesus is “I am”…. that’s a wonderful thing it notice about the text. What we are not can define us as sharply and clearly as what we are or what we long to be. And perhaps in God’s eyes all we are not is … not even visible. Perhaps our uniqueness in His eyes is something quite different: how loving are we? how funny? how joyful? how peaceful? how creative with what we have? have deep we mourn? We have the idea that God “sees” or judges us based on the real us, not the surface appearance, yes?
And also recently read Barbara Brown Taylor’s book “Learning to Walk in the Dark” so the connection between “I am” and “I am not” and “darkness” and “light” is quite interesting. In darkness there can be truth and peace and quiet: think of these images: the womb; being wrapped up in a big comforter; seeds stirring in the darkness of the soil. Yet we want the light — after a week in rainy Vancouver recently seeing the bright beautiful sun and rich blue sky again is delightful and wonderful. It is just perhaps we run from the darkness when perhaps we need to sit a while.
John while he was in the desert must have been surrounded by light. Aren’t deserts where the sun beams down ceaselessly? Is the wilderness or desert where John was different from what I am seeing in my mind’s eye? To think that all that sunlight, without Jesus, was darkness and John wandered and preached and hoped (for 20 years perhaps) waiting for the Light to reveal itself, that is really quite amazing.
Finally, I’m reading John the Baptist by Alexander J. Burke, Jr. and he has a wonderful section (chapter 4) about the word Baptist. “The Greek word baptistes seems to be one coined especially for John. It occurs only in Josephus and in the Synoptic Gospels…..it is a Jewish-Greek formation design solely to describe this strange and unique activity of John. … [It] was totally different from the multitude of Jewish bathing rituals and lustrations.” He goes on to explain that one uniqueness is that having a cleansing administered by another — John dunks/splashes/washes/I don’t know you. The people who came to the river Jordon didn’t just wash themselves. Nor were they just cleaning their body.
I love stuff about the words!