I find that the cousins, Jesus and John (now commonly referred to “The Christ” and “The Baptist”), have some curious potential symbolism. Maybe I am reading more into this than intended by the authors of the Gospels, but it seems to me that John is more about judgement, and Jesus more about mercy.
John – Judgement
The general behavior of John makes me think of the judgement of God. Sure, he was preaching repentance, and he truly served and helped many people. But his approach seemed at times harsh. For example, he also publicly, verbally attacked at least one political leader, whom he considered to be wicked and immoral. How many Christians do that today? Some, of course, but most do not. In fact, John did it so much that he was eventually executed by the State. Interestingly, sometime after John’s death, Jesus called him one of the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. So, if we aspire to that kind of greatness, should we consider to similarly publicly attack social wickedness and immorality, even if it means the threat of being arrested or killed? Gulp.
Then there were the religious leaders with whom he interacted. Let’s see, what are some things John said to them? “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” I’d like to try to translate that into our modern world if possible:
Imagine if you had the chance to visit either the Pope, Rick Warren, your pastor/priest, or your favorite Christian leader, teacher or worship leader. After introducing yourself and saying how happy you are to meet them in person, you launch into, “You corrupt worthless wolf in sheep’s clothing! You only pretend to love God and people, and God has a special place in hell reserved for you, your family and all your friends! God’s kindness and repentance are not offered to you, even if you should aspire for them. Get away from me you jerk!”
Again, I wonder if to be great in the Kingdom, we need to pray about how we can emulate John in his approach to religious leaders…ouch.
…but maybe not all religious leaders? Don’t you think? Hopefully?
If I am wrong in my analysis, I guess I could easily excuse myself since I never knew John. I can only speculate with a long, arching view of 2,000 years. Even so, there is enough I read in the Bible to make me think that John leaned toward judgement. On the other hand, maybe he eventually regretted some or all of what he did and said. I mean he was a sinner like the rest of us, so it’s possible he would do it all differently if he had been given the chance for a do-over. That said, I can’t escape the reality that when Jesus observed his character and behavior, he called him “great.” So there you have it.
Jesus – Mercy
Well, even if I try to water down John’s name calling, etc., when I compare his intense words and actions with the nature of Jesus, it’s even more interesting. That’s because Cousin Jesus more typifies to me mercy. He called people to repent (“Go and sin no more”) but seemed to do so in a nicer way. He let people touch him. He joined them in their lives and spent time with them. He talked to them and presumably listened to them. In short, he threw himself into the human pool, while John remained set apart, hidden away in the desert. Jesus spoke of going after the lost sheep. He sought people out. He went to Lazarus and raised him from the dead. He forgave people their sins. He was nice.
He did not rail against political leaders as far as we know. However, he did have some accusatory words for certain religious leaders. And in that regard, we can say that he and John were at least kind of similar. But Jesus also seemed to keep the door open for anyone to repent…even those who seemed least likely to do so. In fact, some religious leaders did end up listening to what Jesus had say.
Even so, Jesus was also killed by the State; therefore, I guess being maybe nicer than John didn’t ultimately mean a different end. We can deduce from this that while some of the State workers may have believed on a personal level, the collective State had no place for either Jesus or John.
As to the religious leaders, John was accused of having a demon, and Jesus, accused of being a drunk. (Matt 11:18) The reasons were because: (1) John fasted a lot and refrained from alcohol; and (2) Jesus ate with nearly anyone (even the unclean sinners), and presumably drank wine. The point is that they were both dismissed by those who would not believe, but for opposite reasons: one did not drink alcohol and the other one did. Almost like, how can you possibly please?
These reflections encourage me for various reasons. Firstly, some people will never approve of me. And I don’t need to worry about that or bother myself with them whatsoever. That’s just life.
But another thing I find helpful is to think of God’s character represented by these two guys. Mercy and Judgement. Jesus and John. Both were needed and both are valid in the Kingdom. I find grace in the notion that it’s okay for different believers today to operate differently, and even have wildly varying personalities. We can still be in the same Kingdom. Interestingly, Jesus and John did not publicly verbally attack each other, even with their differences. They knew they were still on the same team. I guess for us in modern times, we need to first figure out who really is “on our team.” But once we do that, if we only differ over tendencies toward mercy and judgement, presumably that is not enough to divide. We need not fellowship together every week, but we can still affirm the validity and importance of the other perspective.
Now having said all that, the Old Testament does say that mercy triumphs over judgement. If we then carry out the allusion of our characters, we could say then that Jesus triumphs over John. If that is the case, I would guess that John probably would not mind this. Because from nearly the start of the Gospels, we see John defer to Jesus, even regarding repentance and baptism. For us today, this would not trouble us either, for Jesus is the Messiah.
The Older Brother
In the story of the Prodigal Son, I have always related to the oldest brother. Probably because of my natural birth order, but also, I think it can be attributed to my personality. That is, I lean towards to the judgement of God; less so to the mercy. In that regard I get energized when I read the accounts of the John the Baptizer. I am working on being more merciful, but it does not come as naturally to me. But maybe that’s okay. Both types are needed, I guess.
On that same note, Revelation 2:26-27 says that Jesus said, “The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.” That sounds more like judgement to me. Maybe I have more of “judge” personality, which is probably why that verse is so attractive to me.
In the Prodigal Son story, what is the message of the father to the older son? The dad said, “Son, you are always with me and all that is mine is yours.” That is, mercy and judgement working together do not mean that some people are shown special favoritism for being good. “Good” people can rely on God’s goodness just like everyone, but should not expect anything more for their good behavior.
The important second theme of this account is that the father also wants the oldest son to learn to extend mercy to the younger brother when he repents. Which is to say that the two sides of mercy and judgement in tandem also mean that some people are shown God’s goodness when they act bad and then later repent.
So to summarize:
- If you are act good, it does not mean you will be shown extra favor.
- If you act bad, and then repent, you can still expect God’s goodness.
- The person who acts good, should extend mercy to the repentant one; despite their bad behavior.
- The person who acts bad, should also extend grace to the good one; despite at times feeling like the other expects special treatment or rewards.
These points really do not follow the tit-for-tat mindset that we sometimes fall into. Instead they allow the Divine Judge to retain his unique role, and they keep us humans in ours. In the nature of God, somehow mercy and judgement blend together, probably in ways we can’t fully understand. We may lean towards one or the other at a personal level, but regardless we must apparently allow God the exclusive expression that results from being perfectly in balance.
© 2019, Alignment Life