Jesus and John were speaking and acting at the same time in history. John had amassed followers, just as Jesus had. None could have known who Jesus would become or what he would do. There is something tender and respectful about each of them speaking highly of the other. John looked up to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one?” Jesus praised John, saying, “no one is greater than John.” Both knew they were after the same things – justice and peace for the underserved, a social structure turned on its head, a greater love and respect for God and God’s world. Both received the same response to their worldview – they were favored by the crowds but despised by the leaders. One approached his ministry by refraining from food and drink and was rebuked. The other approached his ministry while eating and drinking and was also rebuked. It seemed it was not really what they did or said that angered the leaders. It was what they stood for. What they stood for threatened their status and comfortable lifestyles.
I can’t help but think of celebrities as I reflect on this text. I think of Oprah, Bono, Angelina Jolie, Matt Damon, and George Clooney, all of whom have used their celebrity and their money to engage in humanitarian efforts across the globe. I contrast them with the image put forth by Matthew McConaughey who is sporting a fancy, expensive watch and perfectly tailored suit for his new Lincoln commercials. It seems he is more concerned with his image of living the life of luxury than of helping others. Who would I rather have dinner with? Not Matthew M. (Ok, he might be a wonderful, caring human being, but I still don’t have to like his arrogant alter-ego.) No matter what we do in life or how we live, we have a choice. We can live for others or we can live for ourselves. Which will you?
The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (And all the people who heard this, including the tax collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.) “To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”