John 1:6-8, 19-28
“I’m not the Christ.”
…”Are you Elijah?”
…”Are you the prophet?”
(John 1:20-21, CEB, emphasis added.)
We sometimes need someone else’s clarity and forthrightness–we might even say bluntness–to help us see ourselves and our situation as they really are. John was nothing if not blunt. He handles our fragile expectations and hopes without kid gloves. He tells it like it is and provides a space for the Spirit to work in the gap between what we have expected and what he has come to testify. John tells us what we are not waiting for so that we may better know and trust the one for whom we truly wait.
John–whether we are talking about the Baptist or the Gospel writer–knows what his role is. He is a witness, a credible witness.
He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. (1:7)
But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that believing, you will have life in his name. (20:31)
For a witness to be credible, we have to believe that he or she is telling us the truth (21:24), the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That’s where a certain amount of bluntness is required. If all we ever hear from someone is what pleases us, then we begin to suspect that the person is not telling us the truth. (See 1 Kings 22:16, for example.) We do not need another “yes man” to whisper lies. Above all, we need someone to tell us the truth about who we are and why we are here, where we have messed up or when we are doing well, about what purpose and direction our lives should have. We aren’t stupid about life. We know that a word about the coming of the light will also be a word about our present darkness–and we prefer a blunt witness like John, who knows the difference between daylight and dark and will tell it like it is so that we can see the road clearly and know where we are (and where we are going) and become people whose lives are determined by the light. (12:35-36)
The Gospel of John is full of cautions about those who refuse to believe in the light, whether out of fear of the social and religious consequences (12:42), or because they prefer to be flattered (12:43), or because they do not want their way of life exposed to the light (3:19-21). These folk run and hide from blunt witnesses and truth tellers. Far better, John seems to be saying, if we choose to wait with people who will tell us the honest truth. Far better, in fact, to become a person who knows the truth and light well enough to become a blunt companion on this journey of waiting with others. Far better to be people who can answer truthfully when asked “Who are you?” and “What do you say for yourself?” Far better to be people who are credible, pointing unequivocally away from ourselves and toward the light that is coming into the world.