Hindsight Is 20-20
We like to think we’re wiser than those who came before us, that we would make better decisions and avoid the traps previous generations have fallen into. No way would we have voted for Candidate A. We would have known instantly that he was trouble in the making. We would have seen his weaknesses and voted for Candidate B instead.
The same goes for religion. We would have recognized immediately that Jesus was the Son of God, and would have worshiped and obeyed him without question. The crazy things the disciples said? The off-the-wall questions they asked? Not us! How could they be so dense?
Nor would we have behaved like the Pharisees. They saw Jesus as a threat to their power. If he was right, they were wrong. They saw their base moving away from them. These are human failings, but we would not have succumbed to them. We would have understood that Jesus was bringing in a new world order, and would have recognized his superiority, given over our power and position to him, and gladly, willingly taken a back seat.
When we’re honest with ourselves we know that none of this is true. We would have missed the signs that made Candidate A unsuitable for the position. We would have asked questions and made statements equally as foolish as the disciples—if not more so. We would have clung to our power positions as desperately as a drowning person grasps a life ring, holding on for dear life to the last shred of authority. All of these are indeed human failings, and most people in every generation fall into the same traps and commit the same errors.
John the Baptist was the rare exception. He understood his role in the story. He knew he wasn’t the main attraction. His job was to prepare the audience for the star performer. He knew where he fit into the gospel story. His job was not to bring the good news, but to prepare the way for the One who would not only bring the good news, but be the good news. And so he went before the King, proclaiming, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” so that all who heard would be ready.
Of course, John had an advantage. He must have known from a very early age who he was and what his role would be. He knew he wasn’t the second banana, or the second string, or the warm-up act. He was the messenger, filling the honored position of opening the door for the One who would bring reconciliation to the world.
But John was a little weird. Matthew makes sure we see John as the people of his day saw him. He didn’t wear normal clothes, he didn’t eat normal foods, he didn’t live where normal people lived. His contemporaries saw him as an oddity, a curiosity. They most likely went out not to hear and accept his message, his call to repentance, but to see the show, the weirdo, the nut case. Once there they were overwhelmed by the power of his message, felt the strength of his passion, and responded to his call.
Where do we fit in to this story? Would we have accepted John’s message? Would we have said, “What must I do to be saved?” Would we have rushed eagerly forward to be baptized? Or would we have written John off as a kook, fun to watch and maybe even laugh at, like the guy who came to our college when I was a freshman. He went all over proclaiming himself the king of each place he visited. He stood on the gym steps and proclaimed himself king of Syracuse University. We laughed at him. A few of the braver students made comments about his mental state; and then everybody left. No one took him seriously.
How would we have responded to John? To Jesus? How do we respond today? Careful now! Remember, hindsight is 20-20!