John 1: 19 – 28
St John wants to establish the credentials of John the Baptist as a witness, and to do this, he tells us a story. He writes that while John the Baptist was baptising people at Bethany, the religious leaders sent messengers to him. They wanted to know by what authority he was baptising.
Well, you can see their point of view. They were the religious authorities. What was this upstart doing, muscling in on their patch, baptising people? Who had given him permission?
They start by asking John the Baptist who he is.
“I am not the Messiah,” he says.
“So.” They prompt him. “Elijah. Are you Elijah?”
“I am not Elijah,” he replies.
“The Prophet, then. Are you the Prophet?”
“No, I am not the Prophet.”
You can imagine the questioners becoming heated. “Who are you then?” they demand.
John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Make straight the way for the Lord”’ (John 1: 23)
And this is the reason for this part of the story. It is to place John the Baptist in the context of Jewish history and their prophetic tradition. These are his credentials as a reliable witness.
The messengers then come to the point that really interests them.
“Why then do you baptise if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” (John 1:25)
Notice that John the Baptist sidesteps the question.
‘I baptise with water,’ John replied, ‘but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’ (John 1: 26 – 27)
“The straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie,” is a very strong statement. Sandals were untied by slaves, so John the Baptist is saying, “I am not worthy to even be this man’s slave.”
In the context of the story, this answer serves to confuse the questioners. I daresay they were wondering who could be standing among them whose authority they hadn’t recognised.
However, in the context of the story St John is telling, John the Baptist’s answer has a deeper function. It is to prepare for his witness to Jesus.
I shall write about that tomorrow.
Heavenly Father, thank you for the witness of John the Baptist; for the recording of that witness by St John; and for the bible which records the testimony to Jesus. Amen