In this modern era, it is all too easy to allow our reliance on empirical data and facts to govern how we see and understand the world. This is why, as a Christian, I often feel it is helpful to adopt a postmodern, bordering on deconstructionist, view of the world. What we see is not always what we get, and the easiest, most straightforward interpretation is not always the best. We live in a world where Occam’s Razor cannot be trusted. John the Baptist’s response to the Pharisees is a case of “what you want is not always what you get.”
|Hebert Translation||Nestle-Aland 27|
|Now [this group of folks] had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him and said to him: “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Christ nor Elijah nor the prophet?” John responded to them saying: “I baptize in water. Amongst you stands one whom you do not know, the one coming after me, of whom I am not worthy to loose the strap of his sandal.” These things happened in Bethany beyond the Jordan where John was baptizing.||Καὶ ἀπεσταλμένοι ἦσαν ἐκ τῶν Φαρισαίων. καὶ ἠρώτησαν αὐτὸν καὶ εἶπαν αὐτῷ· τί οὖν βαπτίζεις εἰ σὺ οὐκ εἶ ὁ χριστὸς οὐδὲ Ἠλίας οὐδὲ ὁ προφήτης; ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰωάννης λέγων· ἐγὼ βαπτίζω ἐν ὕδατι· μέσος ὑμῶν ἕστηκεν ὃν ὑμεῖς οὐκ οἴδατε, ὁ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος, οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ [ἐγὼ] ἄξιος ἵνα λύσω αὐτοῦ τὸν ἱμάντα τοῦ ὑποδήματος. ταῦτα ἐν Βηθανίᾳ ἐγένετο πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου, ὅπου ἦν ὁ Ἰωάννης βαπτίζων.|
So often in the New Testament people will demand hard evidence about Jesus, who he is, what he’s doing. In this passage we have a group of Pharisees who are out at the Jordan checking in on John the Baptist. The Pharisees are a group that are especially interested in the observance of purification laws — where they should be observed, how they should be performed, and how often. They are intimately aware of the Hebrew Scriptures including the messianic prophecies that were running rampant at the time. Yet, they fail to recognize that Jesus is among them. Instead, they are concerned with John’s activities and (presumably) whether or not they are lawful.
(ASIDE: As a historian, I don’t want to give you the idea that I buy into some sort of homogenized caricature of the Pharisees as a group of crazy Jews that were obsessed with the Law. However, I do think that the Law held a near and dear place in their hearts, generally speaking, and that they were concerned with how it was observed.)
No one was expecting a Jewish artisan from a backwater known as Nazareth to be the Son of God — least of all the Jews! With no hard evidence, without even meeting this Jesus fellow, John knew and trusted that he was the one and that he was on his way. John knew that he was amongst them.
Sometimes, the world defies our expectations and defies our categorized laws that we have invented to describe what we perceive as reality. This confounding of our interpretation only makes sense if the world is the reflection of an infinite God. If we walk around demanding hard evidence, we need to look no further than what is already in our midst.