In the lessons surrounding John the Baptist there are many things that get our immediate attention as well as some things that don’t but should! Let’s fill in the details a bit about John and his ministry. First of all, we need to get a sense of the setting he was ministering in. John did his thing in the middle of a very difficult place to reach, in the middle of a wilderness desert where temps reached close to 100º by noon. It was a land of scrubs, dust, and general unpleasantness! Unlike today’s well-curated tourist attractions there were no shaded cabanas, bottled water, or misters for those overcome by the scorching desert heat. No food purveyors supplying tasty chilled snacks.
The crowds who came to see him, despite the unpleasantness, were enormous. From writings of the time, scholars surmise that they often numbered upwards of 5000. In today’s terms that would eclipse record breaking concerts or sports event crowds. He wore weird clothes, smelled funny and ate weird stuff. A lot of people thought he was just plain crazy. The River Jordan was tacky at best, just a spit with murky water. There was nothing existing in the whole scene that was pleasant, inviting, comfortable or easy. There was nothing that made sense to go and seek out. John’s active ministry of Baptizing and preaching lasted about a year before his arrest according to exegetes. The daily crowds included the poorest and the richest, those who were illiterate and the finest scholars of the day! Clearly, there were many who were sure there was nothing to gain amid the craziness. Yet they came.
When we read this story it’s easy to be distracted by the obvious; the weirdness of John, the crazy scene, and crowds, the baptism of God himself. But as they say, the devil’s in the details. After an encounter with John’s disciples, Jesus engages with the crowd who is constantly around him. He makes no comment about the validity and/or style of John’s ministry. However, he poses a thought to the crowd that would render a room full of today’s scholars dumb. Jesus asks the crowd:
“What did you go out to the desert to see?” (Lk7:24)
At this point in your spiritual walk, you might realize a truism of scripture. Any question that Jesus asks is more than likely a question for you too. So, if you were there in the Galilee and part of the pop culture crowd rushing out to see the “new healer”, what would your answer be? Were you there to be a gawker at a safe distance. Where you there because there was nothing else to do? Were you there to feel “normal” while you watched a crazy man do his thing? Were you there to see a “real” miracle? Were you there to see and maybe meet the celebs? Of the many who came, how many were blissfully ignorant that life altering salvation, from God’s own hand, was right in front of them?
In the present, what do you go out of your way to see? The root of Jesus’ question had nothing to do with the oddness of John’s ministry. In truth, this was a question that purposely challenged each person who heard it. Jesus himself identified John as greater than himself, God’s voice of one crying in the wilderness preparing the way. So what was the motive for the gawkers at John? Were they people convinced somewhere in their soul that this was something holy happening or were they content with an outing for a day and no thoughts about how John’s ministry was impacting anything? No recognition that God was doing something earth shattering here.
What are you looking at? As you travel through life do you recognize those moments when God hands you grace or forgiveness or blessing or love? Do you dismiss situations or circumstances that are out of the ordinary, amusements or something to merely occupy your time as you observe passively? Do you purposely go to places or situations where you won’t have to think or be bothered? It’s all a matter of perspective but make no mistake. When God presents you with his biggest blessings or greatest challenges to grow it will most likely be out of the ordinary! What did you go out to see? What RU lookin’ at?
Copyright© 2017, Kathryn M. Cunningham