Uncle Josh thinks about John the Baptist
Today’s Gospel is Matthew 11:2-11. This is the story of John in prison sending his disciples to Jesus to ask “are you, like, the Dude, or what?” [Obvious paraphrase from The Bible for the Laid Back]. Jesus says a lot of things about the blind seeing and the deaf hearing and lame walking and the poor having good news for a change, but in paraphrase:
Jesus waved his arms to those around him and said, “dudes…”
But the second time I heard this story, I kept thinking that this was a really dumb question for John to ask in the first place. He was Jesus’ cousin. He knew who Jesus was (Matthew 3:14-15). He knew who Jesus was in the womb (The BLB skims the birth narratives, but more reliable translations do not).
So why would John question this? It is possible that he heard the stories of a new prophet running around while he was sitting in a rock room with stale hay for a bed. Maybe he didn’t know if the stories were about Jesus or someone else. The jews were on the lookout for a messiah to save them from the occupation, after all. So one solution is that John sent his disciples to find out if this was Jesus, and those desciples should have known better, too, if they had witnessed the baptism of Jesus.
But instead, I think John heard those stories and knew who it was and what it was all about and thought “finally that lathe-turning waffler is getting busy.” (It may not be fair to think of our Lord and Savior in these terms, but a cousin is a cousin.) But John’s disciples come to him and talk about this interloper, preaching about the Kingdom of God and getting it wrong, ignoring the fact that John was pretty deliberate about the “one who comes next” was going to be different. Of course the one John foretold was going to be different that John.
So my question was this: Why would John surround himself with dimwits.
A better question came to mind: Why would Jesus surround himself with dimwits? The Apostles just don’t get it. Jesus is always correcting them when they tell him to send away the poor and sick, or when they ask if they should send lightning to smite people who doubt Jesus, or when they get scared when a wave rocks their boat. (Fishermen!)
Then I came up with a theory: Jesus surrounded himself with these dimwits to serve as an attitude check. Jesus was fully human. To say He didn’t have human desires is to deny something fundamental about being human. He knew temptation, he got tired, he got cranky. I’m willing to bet that when he went out to the desert and Satan said “rock the world, little dude, but worship me instead and I’ll grease the wheels” Jesus thought about it. Jesus didn’t just say “thanks but no bro” but gave it thought.
Jesus knows that Easy doesn’t work. Hard works. Satan offered Easy Mode and Jesus said:
“Dude, I got this,” and dope-slapped Satan on the back of his head.
When I was in tech support hell, working in a cube farm and tethered to a phone dealing with people who didn’t have an upper-left-hand-corner of their screen or broke their computer’s drink holder or couldn’t double click an icon without moving it around the screen, I got frustrated. This is understandable and a hazard of the job.
I was at my most patient with the people who got a full ten minutes into the call before admitting their power was out which is why they called on their cell phone when I was sitting over the half wall from someone who constantly lost his cool. Every call was followed by a litany of insults about the lack of common sense or evolutionary progress of his latest caller. Every time he went off, muting his phone mid call to utter a stream of profanity into his headset, I found myself getting more patient with my callers. I am impatient, but next to a truly unhinged impatient cube-dweller, I am Job.
I think Jesus was like that, too. He surrounded himself with dimwits who overreacted to the littlest thing to remind himself of what he shouldn’t be like. When the apostles said “if you dine with one more tax collector I’m out of here” Jesus doubled his resolve to find a tax collector and be nice to them.
John sent his dimwits to see Jesus for themselves.
Surrounding Himself with extreme examples of his own human faults, Jesus knew how to avoid them.
So must we, as Christians, practice good responses to a frustrating and frightening world. We must push ourselves to respond with Love to Hate, Peace to War, Hope to Anger. Let the evils of the world fertilize our love and strength to make the world a better place.
You know, like Jesus told us to when he said,
“Never say ‘sucks to be you,’ because that’s just not cool with God, all right? You wanna live in a bette world? Do better by it.”