July 14, 2020 by Bob Whitaker
John the Baptist was an unusual character. He lived in the wilderness, wore camel skins, ate locusts and wild honey. He appears to be fearless and relatively unconcerned with what others think. Eventually his prophetic message led to death by beheading. He was a rugged individual, unimpressed by political power brokers and unaffected by their threats. John was like the frontier man living an independent life of a rebellious loner. However, there is one exceptional distinction that suggests he was not an independent religious rebel.
When John predicted the coming of Jesus he said “There is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie or carry.” He informs his audience that he is a lowly, small character compared to the Lamb of God. When he claims to be unworthy to even touch the sandals of Jesus he lowers himself to the level of a subservient slave. There was nothing lower than handling another person’s shoes or washing their feet. But notice, John takes it down even further if that is possible. I am so unworthy, so low that I cannot qualify to touch his sandals.
Our 21st century of the individual is much like the figure of John preaching in the wilderness. We often believe ourselves to be the independent proclaimers of truth. We assert our rights and flaunt our independence. We even have adopted the ridiculous notion that we are self-made individuals. What is often lost in our self-made individualism is the idea of being a servant. We have difficulty submitting to authority. We shout about our “rights” even if those “rights” threaten another. We live as though we are the only ones who matter, like self-consumed whining children.
This can affect our view of God and the church. We worship the God that we have crafted in our own image. If we don’t like the notion of God being fierce, we try to tame him. If we think there is too much emphasis on the love of God, we create a god that is fierce. How often is our view of God informed by our own prejudices? Is our understanding of God more like a modern version of Santa Claus or do we kneel in awe at God’s holiness?
When visiting an elderly parishioner on one occasion she shared with me her prayer routine. “Every night, she said, “I kneel beside my bed to pray. It might seem odd to some folks but I can’t do it any other way. What do you think, pastor?” It was not her intent, but her words were a silent rebuke to my cavalier view of God. She was quite old, her knees wobbly and I wondered how she could kneel every night. I was ashamed. She didn’t know it but she was paraphrasing the words of John the Baptist – I’m not even worthy to touch your sandals. Both John and my elderly parishioner were right. If it is possible to go lower than sandals, that’s where we belong in the presence of God. Let’s believe it, embrace it and live that way.