A man named John was sent from G‑d. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light.
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?”
“I am a voice crying out in the wilderness,
Make the Lord’s path straight,
just as the prophet Isaiah said.”
Those sent by the Pharisees asked, “Why do you baptize if you aren’t the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”
John answered, “I baptize with water. Someone greater stands among you, whom you don’t recognize. He comes after me, but I’m not worthy to untie his sandal straps.” This encounter took place across the Jordan in Bethany where John was baptizing.
There are times in our lives when we don’t know what our place is in the world. Everyone else knows, but we don’t.
I remember, some thirty years ago now, when I was standing in my Mother’s kitchen talking about something I was learning in the Bible. She asked me, “Why don’t you go to seminary?” She saw in me that I was supposed to be something I just couldn’t see.
And then there was the time, when my daughter was just a little one, we were gathered at my Mother’s kitchen table and were talking about some theology (I don’t remember what it was) and I was going on and on about something. Any way, my daughter said, “Gosh, Dad! Why don’t you have a church?”
Another time, a friend of mine said, “You know, you would make a good priest.” Again, I didn’t see it.
For years, I just couldn’t see it. I just thought I was like everyone else except I was given the proper tools. But I had a good friend of mine tell me plainly, “No, you’re not like everyone else. Most people don’t care enough to put in the time even if they did have the tools. G‑d’s given you a gift.”
In our Gospel reading today, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem asked John a specific question, “Are you Elijah.” And He answered, “No, I’m not.”
But that’s not how Jesus saw John. As I noted last week, there are several occasions where Jesus plainly stated that John was Elijah:
“I assure you that no one who has ever been born is greater than John the Baptist. Yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven is violently attacked as violent people seize it. All the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John came. If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. Let the person who has ears, hear.
The disciples asked, “Then why do the legal experts say that Elijah must first come?”
Jesus responded, “Elijah does come first and will restore all things. In fact, I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they didn’t know him. But they did to him whatever they wanted. In the same way the Human One is also going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples realized he was telling them about John the Baptist.
And, as we saw from last weeks Gospel reading, the description of John matches that of Elijah (cf. 2 Kings 1.1-8 with Mark 1.1-8).
Lastly, speaking about the end of the Old Covenantal Jewish age, Malachi wrote, “I am sending Elijah the prophet to you, before the great and terrifying day of [Yahweh] arrives” (Malachi 4.5 (CEB); adapted).
So, in some very real but very mystical sense, John the Baptist was Elijah. He just didn’t know it.*
How often do others see in us things that we don’t see in ourselves? As indicated above, I do it all the time. All I seem to see is the falseness, the darkness. But I’m working on that.
What about you? Has G‑d used others to show you something? Has G‑d used them to tell them things about yourself? Things that G‑d wants you to do? Things that G‑d has called you to do? Maybe you can’t see them. During this season of Advent, this season of waiting, this season of preparation, think about the times that others have said things to you about what they see in you. Maybe that’s where G‑d is speaking to you. You never know…you might just be the next Mother Teresa or Mahatma Ghandi or Pope Francis or Thích Nhất Hạnh or Thomas Merton.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
Or he knew that the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem understood the coming of Elijah as the actual, physical person of Elijah. And his answer reflects the error of their view.