John the Baptist, who I often refer to as simply JBap, gets a whole lot of love in the three-year Revised Common Lectionary Cycle. We hear about him at least three times between Advent 1 and Ash Wednesday. His head-on-a-platter story is common fodder for early in the Season after Pentecost. And here he is again this week, showing up in a story that seems to have nothing to do with him. This is a story all about Jesus and his authority, but when the religious leadership challenges Jesus directly, he turns their attention to JBap. As one who gets tired of hearing about John all the time, I mean how many times can we talk about his baptism and penchant for camel hair jackets, I spent most of the week asking myself, “What does JBap have to do with the authority of Jesus?”
It turns out, most everything.
As I’ve read through my usual sources, several of them have pointed out that John the Baptist wasn’t just a popular prophet in the time of Jesus, he was THE PROPHET who announced the coming of Jesus. Those who took heed to John’s preaching were predisposed to become followers of Jesus. Those who ignored his claims, as the religious authorities did, were those who were now balking at the message of God’s Kingdom that Jesus was preaching. Unless one understood John as having the authority of God, there really was no reason to believe that Jesus had any authority either. Jesus knew that. The Chief Priests and Elders knew that. And so, when Jesus turns their question around to JBap, the answer, though unspoken, is readily apparent.
Come January, I will probably be tired of all the JBap stuff, yet again, but maybe this year, I can listen with new ears to his message in the wilderness. It is in preparing a pathway for the Lord that I’ll find a deeper understanding of the authority of Jesus.