22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom.
The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is
full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and
it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”
Some of you may not realize this, but . . . are you ready for this?
Human beings love to argue!
I'm going to wait just a moment to allow you time, to let that sink in.
What? You say you already knew that?
Well, give me an opportunity to set up this passage, and please keep in mind that my tongue is planted firmly in my cheek . . . .
Picture if you will, a group of men standing in a small circle, some tight-lipped, seething with anger, some with hands outstretched, placating words on their lips. Some of these are rough looking men, coarsely dressed, in the same way that their leader, John the Baptist, was attired. Some are obviously more "citified" and have finer clothing and sandals than their opponents. All are irritated, annoyed, and frustrated.
"Fine!" One of the men throws his hands in the air in a gesture of displeasure. "We'll see what the master has to say about this!"
The group of men follows him as he walks over to John the Baptist; they're scurrying to keep up with his long strides. Expectantly, they wait for his question.
"Master," he starts, "we've been arguing with this no-nothing from in town...." His voice trails off in shame, as John raises his eyes slowly and gazes at him. He is instantly convicted of his sin in singling out and insulting one of his fellow Jews in the group.
"Well," John says calmly, "I've heard that you're arguing, but I'm not certain that I know what it's about?"
The voices rise like floodwaters behind a dam -- everyone is talking at once!
"It's about the ceremonial washing."
"They just can't be right about it!"
"The temple elders are getting into it."
"That man you baptized -- the one that we saw the dove alight on -- he's baptizing folks, too."
"I've seen . . . the crowds are way bigger than our group!"
"Maybe we should set up a debate between you and him . . . We'd need a large venue, with lots of room for those who want to hear the argument, er, I mean debate."
"we could get the Court of the Gentiles reserved at the Temple. It's big enough to hold everyone that would come to hear."
"I bet we could get Gamaliel, or even Caiaphas to be the moderator."
"I'll send out invitations on Facebook and Twitter and we'll have a huge turnout!"
Does this sound like the modern way to take care of a dispute? Isn't this how aspiring politicians and leaders try to drum up support? Yes, we humans absolutely love to debate and argue. We can't stand it if we don't have the last word. We're so sure that our opinion is right. We absolutely must be heard.
Sometimes we miss the point, don't we?
John's followers were flustered. They were so sure that their argument was hugely important. After all, these people were questioning what baptism really meant -- did it cleanse from sin? What would become of the temple sacrifice? Have we been spilling blood needlessly all the years? No, no, no, we're talking about repentance - that's in your heart. We're talking about obedience - that's how you live. But how do you atone for sin? Round and round and round they went, and in the background there was this guy that their master had baptized who was gathering bigger crowds, and -- get this -- he was doing miracles!
Imagine their bewilderment when their master began talking about weddings and bridegrooms!
Now, between the two of them, John the Baptist and John the gospel writer, we'll see the answer to this argument when next we look at this passage.
Stay tuned, won't you?