In this passage we see the last prophet of Israel clearly describe his specific calling within the larger mission of the people of God. Last week, we saw how John the baptizer, working from the long tradition of the prophets, was calling the people of Israel to turn away from the ways of the world in order to prepare for the coming King. This is an insider conversation: a prophet’s calling is to serve the people of God. The purpose of the prophet’s message is to call the people of God to live out their role in God’s mission to the world.
This week, some of the leaders of Israel come to John to ask for clarification on who John is and why he is doing what he is doing. Their first question to John is “Who are you?” John’s response is in the context of the expectations of the people of Israel. There has been a long silence between the last prophet and John. They have been waiting for a word from God. They have been waiting for God’s anointed deliverer, the Messiah, to rescue them from Roman occupation. John knows that he is not the Messiah but one who points to the Messiah. In what ways do we, as Church, focus on ourselves, thinking that we are Messiahs, rather than simply those who humbly point to Jesus?
John the baptizer knew the urgency of his mission – the Messiah was already among the people, but unrecognized. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Out of this urgency, John served his calling. He acted, dressed, and spoke according to the traditions of the people of Israel so that they could understand his message. How, as Church, can we work within the traditions of the Church that we know so that those who are Christians can turn from the ways of the world and return to God’s way of being God’s people?
John the baptizer knew his calling and mission. He was to be a voice in the wilderness, calling for the people of Israel to prepare for the Messiah who is also the Prophet and King. John will baptize those who already know themselves to be God’s people with water in preparation for the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. This is so that the people of God can fulfill their calling to share the Light, Jesus, with the nations. In what ways are we, as Church, helping each other live more fully into our baptismal vows so that we can participate in God’s mission to the world?