The Nativity of St. John the Baptist. It may or may not be on your radar, but if it hasn’t been thus far – it’s today! John the Baptist is this incredible figure, in Scripture. He’s a priest who refuses the priesthood he is born into; he’s a Nazirite from birth (I’ve written about Nazirites not-so-long ago, here, considering short-term, or temporary, commitments of added devotion), something nobody else mentioned in the Bible is except Samson (though we might note that he seems to have actually kept the vows of a Nazirite, which Samson was not good at keeping).
The priests, in Jesus’ time, are maybe more closely linked with the Sadducees – but a priest among the number of Pharisees is not entirely unheard of. John the Baptist, though, is something completely unexpected. He has a spirit on him like the spirit of Elijah. He is a hermit, a man who lives in wild places, and about whom wild things can be said. He eats locusts and wild honey; he wears camel skin for clothing, with a leather belt; he calls both Sadducee and Pharisee “viper” (in groups, a brood of vipers); he prepares the way for Jesus, he points to Jesus as the One coming after him, he baptizes Him in water, he is witness to the Father’s voice resounding from the heavens as Holy Spirit descends like a dove. He is no small personality.
If we wanted to take something from his life, I’m inclined, today, to look at him as a priest who would not be a priest the way the rest were. Born to privilege because of his parents, he could easily have taken his rightful place among the Sadducees – a group which we anachronistically characterize as power-hungry. Closer to the point, they were probably in the position that their status afforded them, and they did what went along with that – at times complicit with Rome, at times on the side of the average Jew.
John would not have that. I’m reminded of the angel that met with Joshua before the battle of Jericho, who – when questioned as to whether he was on Israel’s or Jericho’s side – stated simply and boldly that he was on the Lord’s side. For him, it wasn’t a question of fighting for Israel or for Jericho. The real question was which of them was on the Lord’s side, on his side. John was unashamedly, unabashedly, on the Lord’s side. He did not shrink from what God called him into, but faced it boldly – even though it meant going against the status quo; even though it meant breaking the traditional rules and roles. He was God’s man.