John the Baptizer was a strange character indeed, certainly not the kind of emissary one might send to the front of an important parade. He might have been the equivalent of the dorky computer nerd of the Ned Flanders variety donning a leisure suit, white socks and sandals acting as ambassador to the Pope – not exactly the type of Wall Street trader, briefcase-toting, pinstripe 3-piece one would expect to herald the arrival of Donald Trump. Yet, here he is; skinner than a flagpole, unkempt, dried honey on his fingertips, locust parts stuck in his beard, boney ass peeking out from under flea-infested animal skins smelling worse than a fish packing plant and shouting like a madman, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
John’s arrival on the scene is poignantly picturesque of the bigger narrative taking place with the One he is proclaiming as the living recapitulation of the ongoing “out of Egypt” motif God is so fond of. Instead of forty years of wandering born of disobedience, Jesus, would later face and defeat his demons in forty days; a feat worth trumpeting on any level! It is God saying, “alright, since this didn’t work so well the first time with my national people, let’s try this at a deeper level through a chosen group from everywhere in the name of my son.”
What is rather apparent is just how ready for John the Israelites were. With little question they came in droves to see and hear him and allow his grubby hands to baptize them in the Jordan. This tells me that this was one thirsty people, primed and ready for the Elijah-styled prophet whose radical nature and message was the stuff of lore; of the Torah. It tells me that this was a people well aware of God’s very loud silence for such a long time. For them, to hear a voice, any voice, was to hear the Voice.
The message of John was the same as that of Jesus: the kingdom of God – a kingdom immanent and hopeful but ominous. A kingdom suggests many things. One is confronted with the reality of the One to whom is owed allegiance, property, relationships – the stuff of life. It also tells me that whoever this Jesus is, he doesn’t come merely to molly coddle our pre-existing ideas about ourselves, the world, God and how all of these work together. No, John is telling us that our tiny, insignificant ideas about life are about to be stretched to the breaking point. The kingdom of God is the wake created by the ocean-liner of God brushing up alongside the dingy of our heavenly imaginations; overwhelming, subsuming them. And, if God was primarily interested in helping us understand, he would have sent a more well read and respectable Pharisee to explain rather than a grimy holy man to evoke. God doesn’t want students as much as followers.
At the time of writing the world sits poised with necks craned and eyes scanning the horizon for the apparent return of Jesus-or at least says radio announcer, Harold Camping. He is only one of many to do similarly. Is this really the sort of questionable character God wants as mouthpiece? If we think Camping to be some insane doomsday wacko, imagine what we would think John the Baptizer to be. He, too, is confidently trumpeting a prophetic sounding message that sounds eerily similar. Apparently, the God of the universe is fine with less than stellar representation.
This has been the case throughout history. When we scan the backwards horizon, it is filled with buffoons, power mongers, horny old men and troublemakers all who claim the name of Christian but whose contributions to kingdom life were dubious at best. And yet, if God is quite happy to be so strangely represented, seen in the same prophetic picture, as John the wild-eyed-scraggly-one, what might God think of me?