26John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”
“Among you stands one whom you do not know.” I don’t think John is saying that these representatives of the Jerusalem elite who have come to question him simply haven’t been introduced yet to the coming one who stands among them. They don’t know him. They don’t understand him. They don’t recognize him. They don’t live in him or from him.
They don’t receive him.
The first verses in our reading this morning are connected to that great hymn that opens John’s Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
He came as a witness to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He himself was not the light,
but he came to testify to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone,
was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came into being through him;
yet the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who received him,
who believed in his name,
he gave power to become children of God,
who were born, not of blood
or of the will of the flesh
or of the will of man,
but of God.
In the face of this great and majestic hymn about the light of life entering into the world but not being received – immediately we hear the representatives of the Jerusalem elite not understanding who John is, nor caring about the one who is to come.
Among you stands one whom you do not know.
What they care about is whether John is going to be trouble. Is he going to start something? Is he going to rise up like a Messiah and lead people towards Jerusalem with an eye to establishing a theocratic state? Is he going to be an action figure like Elijah attempting to initiate God’s great act of deliverance from foreign oppression? Is he the prophet like Moses leading the people to a promised land?
John denies it all. He is just a voice.
But though John says he is a “voice of one crying out in the wilderness,” these interrogators are still puzzled because he is baptizing, he is taking action – an action that looks like the gathering of an army. So, again, they ask. And though John keeps pointing to the coming one, these representatives of Jerusalem’s power are not interested.
“Among you stands one whom you do not know.”
These are sad words. Those who should know do not. They are like Nicodemus, wandering in the dark, confused by the breath/wind/Spirit of God. They do not receive the light.
They just want things to stay the same.
But things won’t. They can’t. For the one whom they do not recognize is one so great in honor and rank that even a prophet of God Most high is still not worthy to serve as the lowliest slave assigned the task of tending such a masters’ feet.
And this one is in the world!
The light and life by whom and in whom and through whom all things exist is in their midst – and they don’t know him. They don’t receive him.
But others do.
It’s no accident that the author of this gospel is the one who tells us that this great and honored one, whose feet the Baptist was not worthy to touch, will take a towel and bend to wash his followers’ feet.
And he will tell them to do likewise.
And the grave shall not hold him.
And he will breathe on them his Spirit.
And the world of the wealthy and powerful will be turned upside down.