“Are you the one… or shall we look for another?” The Doubt of John the Baptist
John the Baptist.
(…I stumbled across the notes for this Bible class I had given about seven years ago to a Catholic Charismatic prayer group. Like so many of the serendipities of the twin flame journey, it surfaced out of oblivion at the unnervingly right time. Oddly enough, our story began with a rendition of Oscar Wilde’s Salome three years after that class…)
A man who was born for one purpose — to prepare the way for the Lord. He was fully aware of this purpose. Even in his mother’s womb, he responds to meeting yet unborn Jesus by “leaping for joy” when Mary and Elizabeth meet. He was obedient to the Lord. He lived a strict life of an ascetic in the desert, fearless before the powers that be, fearless in the face of death.
And yet this man asks Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” What sort of a question is that from a man who was fully aware of his sole purpose in life — to witness about Jesus? The man who was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, who sent his followers to him with no jealousy or grudge — was he now wrong? Was his whole life and impeding death in vain?
John is the first one to recognize Jesus as the one who is to come, as the “lamb of God”. He is also the first one to use this expression. But whom was John actually expecting? For whom was he preparing the way?
“A voice cries: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God… Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him… Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust. Lebanon will not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering. All the nations are as nothing before him” (Isaiah 40)
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver…” (Malachi 3).
John knows how the Lord is to come. He is coming with power. He says himself in Matthew, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire”.
When John asks Jesus from prison, the reply he gets is a verse from Isaiah, go and tell John what you hear and see, the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, … And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
Another aspect of God is coming forward. A God who is less like a man. A God who is more difficult to understand. Instead of killing, he loves.
Instead of burning the sinners with the fire that never ends, Jesus goes exactly to sinners, and eats with them, shares his life with them, loves them. Is this a scandal for John? A stumbling block? John is a pure and holy man, but paradoxically, it is his very zeal that makes it difficult for him to understand Jesus. To understand a weak God.
There is no reason to believe that John did not accept Jesus’ answer. Jesus praises him, when he says, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
The one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he… If we look by the standards of this world, John the Baptist is the biggest and strongest man that has ever lived. But in God’s kingdom we will not be judged by the standards of this world. God’s power far exceeds all human power, God’s greatness — all human greatness. The poorest will be the richest…
The gift of the poor widow who only had a few small coins to put into the temple treasury turned out to be far greater than the richest gifts anyone could give — because she gave all the had.
The prayer that comes from a place of poverty, the helpless whisper of one who is afraid to hope: “I believe, help my unbelief!”, the despair of the Shunammite woman who came to Elisha “Did I not tell you to not give me hope?!”. Is ours a “poor” prayer or a result-oriented prayer?
Are we willing to see God in the insignificant? To recognize him in the weak? With sinners?Without results? Without words? A prayer in darkness?
Do we dare?