Big Dipper | John 1.24-27
(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. John 1:24-27 | ESV
Now, it was a ruling clique of the Pharisees – the law-thumping religious purists of the day – that were behind this whole interrogation. Having gotten nowhere so far, they pressed the matter once more. “Well, since you’re nobody – not Christ, not Elijah, not the Prophet – what do you think you’re doing dipping people in the river like this?” “That’s right, now you’ve got it,” John shot back, “I’m the Dipper. I’m just dipping people in water. But right here, right in your company stands someone – and for all your religious expertise, you don’t have a clue who he is either! He’s the one who comes after me, following upon my heels – ah, but I’m not even qualified to lace his shoes!” And that was it. Interrogation ended. John’s momentous testimony taking place far from the halls of power along a muddy little stream leading to the Jordan at some forgotten place called Bethabara (or was it Bethany?) MAV
John continues to defy the religious categorizers who had a status quo to protect under the pretense of holiness, for the love of God. It’s unclear whether this is a second set of questioning categorizers, or others from the same deputation. But these were the strict categorizers we know and love as Pharisees – a word reflecting the idea of purity. They were purists. Religious purists. The irreligious and leftists in our culture would call them “fundies.” They no doubt looked and sounded impressive – particularly compared with the wild man in the water. Chosen One, Elijah, or Speaker to the house of Israel. Those are your choices. And if you’re not any of those, then what are you doing here? “Ah,” says John. “But there is another category you haven’t anticipated. I’m the Dipper. Just a big, wild Dipper.” Yes, “Dipper” sounds odd to our ears compared to the traditional “Baptist” transliteration of the Greek βαπτιστὴς, particularly if you are, well, a Baptist (don’t worry, I don’t think “Dipper” will catch on; too easily made fun of, and far too ordinary sounding). “I just dip people in water.” What a totally disarming lack of importance. Change the title of this reflection. John is not the Big Dipper. He’s just a wee, little dipper who’s hardly worth the precious time of this dignified devout deputation. In fact, he’s such a wee little dipper that he’s not even qualified to be a shoe-lacer for the One who is coming – the one who won’t just burst their religious bubbles but who will transcend all their categories, predictions, codifications, speculations, and pontifications. And I love the Dipper’s riddle. “The One who comes after me is actually ahead of me because he’s always been first in line.” So many wondrous cues we can take from the Dipper’s answer and demeanor. When questioned by religious categorizers, defy the categories, find and use your voice, employ a catchy riddle or picture that says everything and nothing at the same time, and then embarrass yourself and those around you with scandalous, outrageous humility and genuine self-abasement. Who knows? Maybe we can become wee little dippers too.
Do you find yourself inspired or intimidated by John’s radical humility and honesty? How ready are you to defy the categories in which others would place you?
Lord, whether it’s as a dipper, a ladle, a common serving spoon or a serving bowl from the finest set of china, give me the grace to embrace the multifaceted nature of who you have called me to be. Let me not merely be content with it, let me burn with creative, humble passion in its expression. Through Christ.
For all of this week’s resources for this new series on Spiritual Disciplines including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.