When all the people asked John, ‘What must we do?’ he answered, ‘If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same.’ There were tax collectors too who came for baptism, and these said to him, ‘Master, what must we do?’ He said to them, ‘Exact no more than your rate.’ Some soldiers asked him in their turn, ‘What about us? What must we do?’ He said to them, ‘No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your pay!’
A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’ As well as this, there were many other things he said to exhort the people and to announce the Good News to them.
As great a light as John the Baptist is - in every cell of his being - he knows he is not the Light.
But he would have 'done'. His followers were clearly devoted to him - they thought little of Jesus and his friends. He may have had his oddness but there was something familiar in his ministry. He fits the profile but there is little difference between him and the prophets that had come before.
John's followers were rebels but not radicals. They wanted the Messiah that the Jews had always wanted; they wanted to topple the enemy; to have their land and their place in it. It was about them and their God; for them John was enough.
A true prophet; John knew he wasn't; knew that Jesus would be so much more than he could imagine - couldn't image - remember his message from prison - 'are you the One?'. John warns us - don't be distracted; look beyond; don't settle for 'enough'.
But we often do; we become captivated by something just a little out of the ordinary; just enough of a challenge. Sometimes we connect with the personality of others who are making the spiritual journey beyond; writers; theologians; priests and retreat leaders and we follow them. We grant them authority through lineage and tradition. We listen to what they say and read what they think; we rely on them to do the 'witnessing' and attach ourselves to their coat-tails.
To paraphrase St Paul we follow Rhor or Merton or Fr so-and-so; but they are just human beings on the same journey as us; we are meant for Jesus. Their words may tempt us but they will not fill us with the joy of that personal calling; the holding, healing relationship that is ours, and ours alone.
We admire the many that we recognise as witnesses; John himself, the saints, the 'wise' people. We cannot let them become the distraction. In following those that inspire us, we must never forget that we are intended to be witnesses ourselves.