John the Baptist captures the imagination. He is the first-century version of the guy standing on the street corner in a bad suit, bullhorn in one hand and Bible in the other. The guy you cross the street to avoid. I think if I was witness to John the Baptist and I heard him say that someone was coming after him who was mightier than he was, I would have thought, “Well thank Yahweh for that!” Sackcloth? Locusts? I doubt his personal hygiene was a priority. Mightier? I would hope so! If this is the best God can do, then we’re in trouble.
And then I wonder, how would John the Baptist go over today? Not in the world at large, but within our sanitized, image and credential-driven churches. Remember, John’s primary audience was the Israelites. He was essentially preaching to the choir – a very broken, lost, and disillusioned choir. He wasn’t a rabbi, he denied being any prophet of note, and yet it’s John whom God chooses to preach a very direct and potentially offensive truth: you are a sinner and you need to repent.
So again I ask, is he a messenger we, as the church, would receive today? It might be easy to say yes, but look deeper. How many times have you discounted a message of Truth because it didn’t come from the pulpit or the Vatican? Could God still have spoken to you through that unorthodox (read: unconventional) source? Truth is still Truth no matter where we find it. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Is it possible that we tend to limit God’s lines of communication? Have we, knowingly or unknowingly, told God we will listen to Him if and only if He communicates through certain pre-approved channels?
Now let me put your mind at ease. I am not saying we should listen to whatever the wind blows our way. And I know these questions assume an ability to discern Truth from falsehood. I’m not talking about new messages. I’m talking about new messengers. John’s message wasn’t new. Israel had been told to repent nearly since the beginning of her existence. However, I think it’s a question worth asking ourselves. How many opportunities have we missed to be convicted, inspired, or affirmed because the messenger was in burlap with a big bug hanging out of his mouth?
Recently, I was filming a woman for a project and asked her to reflect on the Blessed Mother. This woman was one of those unorthodox sources, and I was curious to hear what she had to say. I never dreamed I’d hear insights from her that would deepen my love and adoration of the Mother of God, but that’s exactly what happened. She spoke words that revealed a real and truthful movement of God in her heart and I was blessed by her words. Had I written her off as an unacceptable messenger, I would have missed a real blessing from the Lord. And we need these strange, unexpected and yes, even awkward, messengers. Why? Because as Scripture says, we are like sheep. You know, those brainless animals that get bored and wander away from safety. We need something to pique our interest or otherwise knock us over the head. We need to be taken by surprise every once in a while, but paradoxically we need to be ready for the surprise to see it. So how about it? Are you ready for the next bug-eating messenger from God?