John 1:6–8, 19–28
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’, as the prophet Isaiah said.” Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
Last Sunday we heard about Mark’s account of the activities of John the Baptist in Jordan preparing his fellow Jews for the coming of the long expected Messiah. Today, it is John the Evangelist telling us the ministry of John the Baptist in Jordan.
The beginning of John’s account says, “There was a sent by God…” This reveals who is John the Baptist. He is not from Zachary and Elizabeth, but a son given by God to them unexpectedly because both of them are humanly incapable.
His name was John. Not only that he is sent by God, his name is also given by God long before the conception. John in Hebrew is “Yohanan” which means “Yahweh is gracious”. It is the name that fits so well to the man because he was going to introduce God’s salvation to mankind in history.
John the Baptist came not only to testify but also bore witness to the light. He himself was not the light. The light is the true light of the world that is Jesus.
It is interesting to note that the target audience of the activities of John the Baptist as told John the Evangelist was priests and Levites from Jerusalem. They were religious leaders who opposed Jesus. They probably ignored the activities of John the Baptist at the very beginning, but could not help to confront him in person when they learned that great many people from Judea and all the people from Jerusalem went to him for baptism (Mark 1:1-8). So the delegates of the religious leaders in Jerusalem went to Jordan and asked him who he was and what authority that he had to urge people to repent.
We can see that even the religious leaders were expecting the coming of the Messiah. Otherwise, they would not bother to send a delegation to investigate who was and John and what kind authority that he had. But, John the Baptist told them “I am not the Christ”. they ten suspected that he was one of the great prophets that was said in the scriptures. So, they asked him, “Are you Elijah?” Again, John the Baptist gave them a negative reply. So they kept asking, “Are you the prophet?” This question referred to a prophet mentioned in the scriptures who would take part in the restoration of the messianic age (Deuteronomy 18:15).
They became so puzzled and decided not to ask further question about his identity but asked him to tell them who he was. He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’, as the prophet Isaiah said.” What John the Baptist told them was that he is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy to preach in the wilderness and to straighten people’s lives by true repentance of their past sins so as to prepare themselves for the coming of the Messiah and the meeting with the Messiah.
As soon as the delegates of the priests and Levites from Jerusalem finished their questioning, a group of Pharisees, who must have witnessed the dialogues between John the Baptist and the delegates, came forward and challenged him. They questioned his authority of baptizing others because they did not think he had the right to carry out this ritual since he was neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet. John the Baptist told them what he did was a symbolic action with water. And he pointed out that the one who had the power and authority above all was right there among them. The sad thing was, John the Baptist said, “Whom you do not know”. This is because the priests, Levites and the Pharisees were so proud and believed that they knew all things refusing to repent. They never got to know their true Messiah.
Despite the fact that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, he was truly humble before Christ and felt that he was not worthy to be Christ’s menial servant to tie the tong of his sandal. This is a picture showing the contrary of the humility of John the Baptist and the pride of the religious leaders.
The Bethany is not the place where Martha, Mary and Lazarus lived but a location on the east bank of Jordan, east of Jericho.
From today’s reading, we may ask, “What is the true purpose and meaning of our lives?” “How can we prepare for the coming Christmas?” “In what way each us can be another John the Baptist?” “How can we lead our brothers and sisters back to the path of salvation, the road to heaven?” Amen.