Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:6-8)
Today’s gospel reading starts with an introductory line, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Mark then immediately quotes the prophet Isaiah as having read, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight'” (Mark 1:2-3). Mark then goes right into the story of John the Baptist, setting him up clearly as the “messenger” in Isaiah’s scenario.
It is believed that Mark‘s was the first gospel to be recorded. It was imperative that the connection to prophecy be made clear from the outset, and Mark has done just that. John’s ministry preceded Jesus’, that Jesus would be a more powerful figure, and that this was as it was foretold by the prophet Isaiah. While John and Jesus certainly had interactions – and these are recorded in the Bible – it seems that the two men are intentionally contrasted with one another in the sense that what John was, Jesus was, but Jesus more so.
Both had miraculous conceptions, both were outspoken critics of the status quo, both assembled faithful followers, both preached a form of renewal, and both were killed. But only one was the Son of God; only one Messiah. So what have the gospel writers accomplished by emphasizing the distinctions between Jesus and John, and by putting words in John’s own mouth that identify Jesus (or at least “not John”) as the Promised One? Almost certainly, the gospel writers were showing how prophecy was fulfilled.
There are many instances in the Bible where something is described that seems strange to us, but that is more readily understandable put in the correct cultural context. But John the Baptist was strange even in his own time. Some scholars today will claim that John was part of a semi-ascetic group of Essenes. But even if that were true, it wouldn’t change the fact that John the Baptist was something of a weirdo, even in his own time. After all, his unique attire and habits were significant enough to be recorded by the gospel writers.
We all know weirdos. We all are weirdos. Weirdos are important. They keep things interesting, keep us entertained, on our toes, and watchful. They play an important role, then and now. Who are the weirdos in your life? In whose life are you “the weirdo”? John’s outlandishness drew attention to Jesus and his message. How can you harness the power of your own weirdness this week to draw others to Christ? The old saying, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” seems apropos here. John literally had honey. How can you evangelize without being bitter and strong like vinegar?