To tell the truth about oneself is not easy. Sometimes we think more highly of ourselves than we ought. More often we diminish ourselves through self-talk that fails to acknowledge the truth: That we are created for a purpose by One who love us.
The most fundamental expression of faith involves not only acknowledging that God exists, but also that YOU exist as an expression of God's love.
The Gospel of John begins with the appearance of John the Baptist. He stands waist deep in the Jordan River baptizing people for the forgiveness of sins. Baptism was a simple ritual of cleansing. Life gets complicated sometimes. We need cleansing from time to time from the inside, out.
The scene opens when the authorities come to question him.
“Who are you?”
“I am not the Messiah.”
“What then? Are you Elijah?”
“I am not.”
“Are you the prophet?”
“Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.'"
"Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”
“I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”
Faith imparts a sense of personal dignity. When you have a sense of personal dignity grounded in genuine faith, you stand firm in the world. John the Baptist feels no need to prop himself up. He says, 'I am not the Messiah. I am not Elijah. I am not the prophet.' Here is not need for self-promotion.
But neither does he denigrate himself. When challenged, "Why then are you baptizing?" He does not get defensive. He simply looks at his challengers with soft eyes and gives them an even softer response.
People who lack a well-grounded sense of personal dignity sometimes feel a need to attack others when challenged. We see this in social media. How often have we read "tweets" that attack and demean? Facebook is full of "trolls" who seem to post comments for the sole purpose of being divisive.
We see it in families. A simple question generates a fierce defensive response. We see it on the streets in simple rudeness. We see it dramatically on display when the Alt-Right marches shouting in anger to assert a sense of personal dignity they lack.
Here is John the Baptist. Something has activated him. Perhaps it is the injustice of the Roman occupation of Jerusalem. Perhaps it is the Sadducees collusion with a foreign power. Perhaps it is the Pharisees self-righteous attempt to dominate the culture with their own version of moral purity.
Perhaps it is all of it and more. Life gets complicated sometimes. When it does, there comes a need for cleansing from the inside out. Everyone from whatever party needs a fresh start.
So John, in his activism, gives a soft response. It is not about him. It is about something bigger, something more. It is about something for which baptism is just a beginning.