Do you remember those old detective movies? The cops would arrest a suspect for some crime, drag him into the dark interrogation room in the police station, and then shine one bright light into his (yeah, it was always a he) face. The bright light would effectively blind the suspect. He could not see his interrogators or their reactions to his statements. The light also helped the interrogators focus on the suspect. They could see every muscle twitch, each blink of the eyes, any grimace, smirk or other telling facial expression.
John’s account of John the Baptist in the wilderness reminds me of those old movies. John is the suspect- and what an outrageous suspect he is in his camel hair and sandals munching on bugs and honey. The priests and Levites are sent to the wilderness to do the interrogation and they get right down to it.
Who are you?
Are you the Messiah?
Are you Elijah?
Are you the prophet?
Who gave you the right to baptize?
Who do you think you are?
What makes you so special?
What do you have to say for yourself?
Come on buddy, ‘fess up.
We want some answers and we want them now.
The folks back at the main office are waiting.
I can see John bolting from the jailhouse chair, tipping over the table holding the cold cup of stale coffee, pulling the hand cuffs apart in his excitement, standing full face into that light and shouting, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.”
Such a revelation could be frightening to anyone. I imagine the cops, backs against the wall, nervously edging their way to the door trying to get away from this self-proclaimed messenger of God. John’s odd appearance, confrontational demeanor, and assertive claims would probably be unsettling to most of us. But John was being interrogated by the religious leaders. The head honchos in Jerusalem had sent this patrol out into the wilderness to get some answers. It must have been important to someone to warrant such a journey. This interrogation incurred some significant travel expenses.
And then the religious leaders hear that this message is about God. John’s baptizing is all about preparing for the Lord. If that is true, why is the message coming to some lunatic in the wilderness? Why didn’t the message come to a Pharisee? Why didn’t the message come to a priest in the temple? Why didn’t the Levites get the message instead of John?
How could those trained in the religion of the day not be at the center of whatever was about to happen? How was it that John and some carpenter named Joseph and some young girl no one had ever heard of would be cast in this divine scheme while the Pharisees, priests and Levites were left out?
John told the interrogators, “Among you stands one whom you do not know…”
Remember those old detective movies? All the cops are crowed in the interrogation room cross examining the wrong suspect. Meanwhile, the one they really want is walking away, moving on to his next episode.
How many time has he stood beside me and I missed him because I was busy challenging the way someone else was delivering the message.