The Awkwardness of John the Baptist

The story of Jesus’ baptism is one that captures the imagination.  Each of the three Synoptic Gospel writers deals with the story in their on particular way, but by far, my favorite is Matthew’s account.  Matthew isn’t afraid to delve into the humanity of this profound and powerful encounter between the Harbinger, John the Baptist, and the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.  While the story begins in a very straightforward way, “Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him,” it quickly becomes clear that this isn’t your run of the mill baptism story.

You can almost feel the awkwardness of the situation as John stares through Jesus, pondering what sort of request this is.  “Jesus wants me to baptism him?!?” John thinks to himself, long and hard, before looking Jesus in the eye and saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?”  John finds himself in a position that anyone doing ministry with any regularity will find themselves in often – the minister becomes the one being ministered too.

If you spend much time with people, it quickly becomes clear that the roles of minister and ministeree can quickly become reversed.  Whether it is sitting in someone’s room at the nursing home or in someone’s ramshackle dwelling next to a garbage dump in Jamaica, the lines are often blurred as to who exactly is being helped in any given situation, and the fact of the matter is, that it can often feel quite awkward.  For everyone.

It takes a depth of character to handle the constantly switching of roles that comes with full-time ministry.  There are moments when all I want to do is shout, “Don’t you know you are the one who knows the answer, and yet you’ve come to me!?!”  It takes humility, and a certain comfort with awkwardness, to allow that other person the space they need to find what they are looking for.  John allows that space in a clunky way and with much reluctance, but, as the story unfolds, we realize that this is precisely how it was supposed to work, awkwardness and all.

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