I have always had this picture in my head of John the Baptist as a confident zealot. I can picture him pinching a locust right out of the air and being unconcerned how others would react when he swallowed it for lunch. I imagine him exuberant, direct, and unafraid to share what he knows to be true. Perhaps it is because of this image of John in my head, that I was surprised to be so deeply touched by John’s humility, which Pastor Mark highlighted in his sermon on John 1:19-34 last Sunday.
Pastor Mark gave us the scoop on John the Baptist: his lineage, his role, and his wardrobe. If you were to extract John’s purpose in life just from this passage, it would be fairly clear. John was to call the people to repent, to baptize them in the water, to make straight the way for the Lord (who happened to be his cousin).
Listening to Mark’s message, I couldn’t help thinking of how it all ends. I hate to spoil it for you if you don’t know, but John’s death is brutal. And he spends a good portion of his time in prison. What struck me so profoundly recently was realizing that John went to prison before Jesus performed many of his miracles. Matthew 11:2 says,
“When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”
John, who was “the voice calling in the wilderness”, telling everyone else to get ready, who served his purpose and helped prepare the people for the Messiah… kind of missed the big show. He heard about it all, but he did not see much of it. Do you ever feel this way? Like you know what you’re supposed to say and do, because you have heard all of it, but perhaps you feel like you haven’t seen it recently?
John was confident in his purpose, and I do not propose that he in any way felt discouraged about the course his life took. I wasn’t there to ask him about it. I suspect he deeply trusted in God’s plan for him. It would be hard not to, with Jesus as someone you could list as your emergency contact. But this week I am wondering if I, and perhaps you too, are being reminded not just to have that same trust John had when Jesus was walking the earth, but that same humility as well.
Many of you know that I have the honor and privilege of working with secondary students with disabilities. I am often in awe of their persistence to grow in a world where they are often misunderstood. I am often in awe of the simplicity of their joy. Yet this simplicity is not because they are simple themselves. It is actually quite the opposite. All of my students are complex creatures, just like the rest of us. They have areas of growth, and areas of strengths and they consistently work towards learning new skills whether it’s filling out a job application or tying their shoes or learning to make a cup of tea for their mom. The truth is many of them have a beautiful and deep humility about them. They work hard and do not know what the outcomes will be. But they continually keep showing up. And they love it. So many of my students absolutely love coming to school. And they love getting to order their own coffee, or scan their own food at a self check-out.
This week I am going to try and model myself more after the similarities I see in my students and John the Baptist. Though they do not always see the outcome of their efforts, that does not deter them from their purpose. Let us persist in this humble way.