John the Baptizer Gets That It's About Jesus, but Doesn't Get What Jesus is About
John the Baptizer doesn't get it. At least, not all of it.
The Gospel text for this week is John's fiery sermon, the only one we have from him, where he warns everyone that the Divine ax is lying at the foot of their tree, ready to cut them down if they don't repent from their sinful ways and start again.
You can read the whole thing here, by the way. It's from Luke 3:7-18. Go ahead and read...I'll wait.
So, a few things about John the Baptizer, his sermons, and these verses:
1. It doesn't appear that John is happy that people are seeking repentance. "Who warned you to flee from the wrath that is to come?" he asks. It's almost as if he thinks that the people deserve, and should get, "what's comin' to them." We like the name-calling God that John speaks of, the one who labels us "brood of vipers." John is about Divine retribution.
2. His advice for the people wondering how they should behave isn't new or novel. For the neighbors he tells them to share with one another. For the money-makers he reminds them not to take more than their fair share. For the people in power, the soldiers, he reminds them that they can't use their power wrongly. None of this is some big secret...it's like my Mama always told me, "You know how to behave. Do it!"
3. John's rhetoric is so honest, so alarmist, people begin wondering if he's the Messiah. He's saying exactly what they expected from God: a message of warning and retribution.
But John knows he's not the one. Something in his gut tells him it's not him.
He knows it's about Jesus, ultimately...even if he can't put his finger on just who Jesus is yet.