A19 THE BAPTIST
St. Luke 7.vv.24-35
~ When John's messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John; "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine robes and live in luxury are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is one about whom it is written, 'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you'. I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." (And all the people who heard this, including the tax collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptised with John's baptism. But by refusing to be baptised by him the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God's purpose for themselves.)
"To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another. 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.' For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, 'He has a demon'; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children." ~
If, as some have suggested, there was a tendency in the early Christian community for some people to exalt the person of John the Baptist at the expense of Jesus, it may well be due partly to the intrinsic character of John and partly to the tribute that Jesus paid him. "Of those that are born of woman, there has not appeared a greater than John the Baptist". Who would not accord honour and respect to one who displayed such courage and devotion as John - and yet, with true humility, continually pointed away from himself to Jesus?
The account of the death of John the Baptist, recorded in Mark 6.vv.14-29, is one of the most gruesome stories in the Gospel, apart from the account of Jesus' death. His imprisonment and death were directly caused by his outspoken condemnation of the behaviour of Herod Antipas who, together with Pilate (Luke 23.vv.6-12), also shared responsibility for Jesus' death.
These similarities in the behaviour and beliefs of Jesus and John are, however, less striking than the identity of their message when each began his ministry. The keynote of their message was the word "REPENT".
It is a great pity that the word "repent" has such weak and negative connotations both in the Church and in the world outside. For countless thousands of people, repentance means simply "sorrow for sin", acknowledging one's wretchedness. Such ideas are truly involved in repentance, but this is only the first step in showing what the Greek word "metanoia" means. Greek words beginning with "meta" always involve change or something following on. "Noia" (nous) means "mind" so that when we think of metanoia we should be thinking of something positive, that is a change of mind, heart, spirit, lifestyle, spiritual life, a radical reassessment of our lives as individuals and subsequently, of course, of society.
This new quality of life is referred to in many ways in the New Testament. Jesus refers to "spiritual rebirth" in his talk with Nicodemus, and the Epistles stress continually the new life in the Spirit.
We know what is involved in "metanoia", but not everyone knows how this radical change can be effected in our lives. One thing is quite certain. As St. Paul says, "What I would not, I do; and what I would do, I do not. Wretched man that I am, who can rescue me from this body of death?" - and then there comes the triumphal shout, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!". St. Paul knew as all Christians acknowledge that we cannot transform our lives or undergo a spiritual transformation by our own efforts. It is too much like "trying to pull ourselves up by our boot laces". There is only one way. Only Christ by the Holy Spirit can effect this change in our lives. He alone can transform and transfigure us.
Whenever I am called upon to baptise a little one in Church, I always ask myself (and sometimes the congregation) the question asked about the infant John the Baptist, (Luke 1.v.66), "What then will this child be?". St. Luke adds, "The hand of the Lord was with him".