John 1 6-8 19-28
There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.
When Jews from Jerusalem sent a group of priests and officials to ask John who he was, he was completely honest. He didn’t evade the question. He told the plain truth: “I am not the Messiah.”
They pressed him, “Who, then? Elijah?” “I am not.” “The Prophet?” “No.”
Exasperated, they said, “Who, then? We need an answer for those who sent us. Tell us something- anything! – about yourself.”
“I’m thunder in the desert: ‘Make the road straight for God!’ I’m doing what the prophet Isaiah preached.”
Those sent to question him were from the Pharisee party. Now they had a question of their own: “If you’re neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet, why do you baptize?”
John answered, “I only baptise using water. A person you don’t recognise has taken his stand in your midst. He comes after me, but he is not in second place to me. I’m not even worthy to hold his coat for him.”
These conversations took place in Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptising at the time.
In John’s Gospel, John is not the Baptist – he is the Witness; the first witness. As great a light as John is – in every cell of his being – he knows he is not the Light.
The authorities may well have rallied around him; his followers were clearly devoted to him – the recorded criticism and exclusion of Jesus and his friends. He may have had his idiosyncrasies but there was something familiar in his ministry – ‘are you Elijah?’ He fits the profile; there had been many, many years of God’s silence before John but there is little difference between him and the prophets that had come before.
A true prophet; John knew that Jesus would be so much more than he could imagine – couldn’t image – remember his message from prison – ‘are you the One?’. John (and John) warns us – don’t be distracted; look beyond; don’t settle for ‘enough’.
To paraphrase St Paul we may follow spiritual guides such as Rhor or Merton or Fr so-and-so; but they are just human beings on the same journey as us; we are meant for Jesus. For that personal calling, holding, healing relationship that John wants us to believe truly ours.