Monday, December 14 —by Sarah Jones

This is John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him, “Who are you?” John confessed (he didn’t deny but confessed), “I’m not the Christ.” They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” John said, “I’m not.” “Are you the prophet?” John answered, “No.” They asked, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”John replied,

“I am a voice crying out in the wilderness,
Make the Lord’s path straight,
just as the prophet Isaiah said.”  (John 1:19 – 23)

God is God and I am not. (Beyoncé)

I have a special place in my heart for John the Baptist, as I suspect most leftists do; he’s living the dream. John refuses to bow to the imperialist system that Rome has imposed on his people and lives “off the grid” and out of reach of the governors and legionnaires. John refuses to conform to societal constructs, this being best conveyed through his very intentional performance in appearance. You wear a camel’s-hair robe and a leather girdle and people know exactly what you’re about. John is so uncompromising in his ideals that he subsists on locusts and wild honey; he doesn’t participate in any economy that monetizes the basic right that human beings have to food. John is woke.

But what really makes John the Baptist a leftist, radical, antifascist icon is that people listen to him. He’s figured out a way to get his fellow Jews to recognize their sin and to repent of it. He’s got followers who spread his teachings, and ordinary folks are coming to him in droves to have their own eyes opened. The Pharisees and Sadducees — the upholders and beneficiaries of unjust hierarchies — are afraid of him and his message.  John has dedicated his life to building a movement that threatens to overthrow the Empire — and he’s been pretty successful.

I’m someone who gets emotional fuel from righteous anger, and this year has been great for that particular type of energy. In 2020, there is no shortage of things for political radicals to rant about and get in online fights over. The performance of activism is made easier by our new reliance on social media for any kind of interaction; our timelines are flooded with woke-ness. Internet personalities became social-media-famous for creating shareable memes, hashtags, and viral tweets that we latch onto as little nuggets of truth-telling and power-bashing. It feels really good to post diatribes against the individuals and institutions that get likes and affirmations, or to see folks jump on the political bandwagon of someone you’ve been a fan of “before they were famous.” New friends, new followers, reshares and retweets, all become affirmations of our righteousness.

I imagine that it wasn’t easy for John the Baptist to proclaim his own limitations. By any metric of a prophet, he was doing a great job. I imagine that his followers really wanted him to be The One who they could hitch their wagon to — The One who would tell them what to do, what to say, what to think in order to be in God’s good graces. And I am sure that the success of his message was a boost to John’s ego as well. And so I wonder what went through John’s mind when God showed up in the form of his cousin the carpenter. Maybe he thought, “This guy?!? But he’s never been outside of Nazareth!” Or maybe, “Thank God it’s him and not me; thank God he’s finally here.” In any case, John never hesitated to remind folks of who he wasn’t and could never be.

I love John the Baptist not only because his uncompromising idealism is kind of my life goal, but because he also reminds me to be humble. “Woke,” on its own, is not a political identity that’s easy (or even helpful) to claim. No matter which side of history we end up being on, our political passions will always put us in danger of idolatry — blind obedience to an idea or person that, however good, is still limited and fallible. For a cis-het-White woman who is working (fumbling) towards abolition, dismantling White Supremacy, and the overthrow of capitalism, John’s example of humility is necessary. I don’t have all the answers. I never will. And I don’t have to.

PRAYER: God, remind me that you are my guidestar.  Forgive me for attaching myself to ideals and ideas that leave no room for your divine disturbance. Help me to reorient myself towards your love and mercy and to listen for your voice in the cacophony of human opinions.