What do we seek? Saint Augustine’s wonderful line keeps echoing to us through the centuries: “Our hearts are restless until the rest in you, O God.” Yet, we continue to seek and not find, we continue to look, but not see; the doors we knock upon are not opened. Is this because God has stopped listening to our prayers? In this season where we prepare for the coming of Christ at the end of time in addition to Christmas; his can seem a disheartening prospect!
Yet, I think with the example we have from the Gospel account for today, we may take some solace; because what we start to see here in this passage is that the authorities from Jerusalem, seeking to fill the restlessness of their hearts in coming out to hear and witness John the Baptist’s mission out in the wilderness. When they come out to him, they come with questions, but they are the wrong questions! Even worse, as John directs them to the right questions, they refuse to follow his lead and stubbornly follow their preconceived notions of what they are after!
Let’s walk back through that dialogue to see where they went wrong, and then how we might learn from their mistakes so that we can ask the right questions.
First, it is important to call to mind the stark image that John presents in the Gospels, which we heard described last week: he is an imposing figure, and one which hearkens back immediately to the great prophets of old: the leather belt, the garment of camel’s hair, the un-kept hair and beard: his mere appearance is one to challenge the niceties of the day.
So, these leaders from Jerusalem come out and are confronted by this mysterious figure and ask the natural question: ‘Who are you?” John’s answer is one to direct them to the right question: “I am not the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed one.” So, who is? Do you know? John follows his role in pointing others to Christ, but they stay focused on him instead, asking him this litany of questions which he refuses to answer and constantly points back to Christ: Are you a prophet? NO! Are you Elijah? NO! “I am the voice crying out in the desert: make straight the paths of the Lord!”
What they fail to ask is if he knows the one who is coming, they are so focused on their own agenda, that they fail to see the forest for the trees.
Where it comes down to us, then, is that I think that the leaders from Jerusalem fall into a very likely trap that, perhaps, we too often fall into: we get so caught up in asking God to answer our specific questions and needs, that we fail to hear the direction in the answers, we fail to hear God giving us the directions to a deeper relationship with Himself.