I lived near the Salt Sea, so it wasn’t unusual to see the Prophet. His name was John. If you saw him you would remember him. Most of the people around here make their clothes out of sheep’s wool or linen. A few may use the rougher goat’s hair. The Prophet wore camel hair. This was understandable since he spent much time living outside, and camel hair makes the best garments to keep one warm in cold weather and cool in the heat common in this area. He left his garments plain, although camel hair takes dyes quite readily. Around his waist he wore a leather girdle. This was a sort of belt that was usually hollow, so money or other objects could be kept inside. For a man like the Prophet, who appeared to have no home, most of his worldly goods would be carried inside the girdle.
The Prophet seemed to be a simple-living man. His diet consisted mostly of locusts and wild honey, and of course water. He wandered around the wilderness of Judea, mostly staying near the Jordan River.
He was called the Prophet because he preached a message he said came from God. It was always the same message. “Repent ye, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” The prophet Jonah had limited his message to a single sentence, and so did this Prophet. He stayed near the Jordan because those who obeyed his message also submitted to ritual immersion. This, of course, had always been the Jewish manner of purification, as specified in the Law of Moses.
The Prophet was not always popular. When groups of Pharisees and Sadducees came out to listen to him, he regularly called them a “brood of vipers.” He told them they needed to bring fruits worthy of repentance. Imagine that! Saying the “purest of the pure” needed to act repentant. That was not designed to go over well. And then telling them not to brag about being children of Abraham because God could turn ordinary rocks into children of Abraham. That had to sting. And then he implied that they were trees with bad fruit. No wonder he spent time in the wilderness. He wouldn’t last long living in the city.
But then he told them something cryptic. Many were calling the Prophet the Messiah, but he said someone greater than he was coming. Not just greater; so great that even he was unworthy to touch his sandals. That one would “baptize with the Ruach ha Kodesh and with fire.” The Prophet baptized with water, but apparently this one would be even stricter than he was.
Then came the day that one walked by and asked to be immersed, and the Prophet refused. Not the way he refused the Purishim and Sadducees, but because he was unworthy to immerse this one. Could this be the one of whom he had spoken? But he looked like any of the other people coming out to hear the Prophet. Nothing called him out as being different, although some murmured that he might be a relative of the Prophet.
The Prophet objected that he was the one who should be immersed by the other. The Teacher replied, “Let it be so immediately. It is fitting that we make full all righteousness.”
I could see the Pharisees in the crowd react to that. Here was a man demanding that the Prophet do that which would make him a Tzaddik, a fully good, fully human person. They aspired to this status through their actions, through the keeping of the traditions. Here this man was, saying that he could become Tzaddik through the immersion that the Prophet denied to them.
Then came the kicker. As the Prophet and the Teacher came up out of the water, the Ruach ha Kodesh descended and lit upon the Teacher in the form of a dove. A voice came from the heavens saying “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” No wonder the Pharisees came to hate the Teacher. He had shown himself to be fully human, and the voice had shown him to be fully the Son of God. Surely this was the Messiah.
Based on Matthew 3.