Practicing the Better: John the Baptist

The bridge from the first covenant to the second covenant climaxed in John the Baptist, the one who broke the silence of a 400-year prophesy drought in Israel with his message to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Matthew 2:3). John’s practice of the better is revealed in this phrase.

Simply put, you don’t have to prepare something that’s already prepared.  John was called to “prepare the way of the Lord” because it was largely lost.  Using the metaphor of Walter Brueggemann, Israel had become consumed with the values of ’empire.’  Rather than being a light to the nations, it was in darkness.  Rather than offer life, it was in the throes of death. Rather than manifest love as Torah was meant to do, it was the purveyor of legalism.  John the Baptist arose to say, “That show is over.  A new one is at hand–the Kingdom of God.”

He declared it in the way he dressed and the food he ate, simple clothing and nutrition compared to the overflowing tables of the rich and famous.  Like Jesus, John was nourished by another kind of food.

He called for the Kingdom to come in the word repent, not narrowly in terms of sin, but in a metanoia (enlarged mind) that enabled people to see life in new ways, expanded ways, larger ways–ways other than the imperialistic thinking of the day either provided or praised.  Jesus later called this the new wineskins necessary to hold the new wine of the Kingdom life.

John marked Kingdom life with baptism–a literal way to say to the world, “I’m in!” He invited everyone into the water of baptism because everyone was meant to manifest and live in conformity to the Reign of God.

For John, these qualities were evidence that people were practicing the better–bearers of light, life, and love.  In John the way was prepared for Jesus–and for everyone since who desires to practice the better.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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