The wild man.
You have seen him in layers of rags, his face creased and darkened by dirt and beating sun. You have seen him walking the streets at all hours, in all weather. You have heard him howling like thunder on street corners and public squares. And even as you have steered clear to avoid the smell of unchecked human odor, your eyes have unintentionally locked and you have felt his lamp burning through you to the center of where you see. You have scurried away, but you cannot forget those eyes, that lion’s roar, his raw animal scent. To relieve yourself of the encounter, you told your friends about him-- the crazy guy, the nutjob, the psycho, the wild man---but your laughing mockery revealed your respect and your fear more than your disdain.
One time you stopped, safely concealed, to listen. His words were as fiery as his eyes. He spoke of injustice, abuse, iniquity, oppression, violation, bigotry, narcissism, and deliberate fabrications designed to engender hatred and division. He demanded atonement, repentence, reform, apology, shame, remorse, and sorrow. He would not let you or anyone explain away the nastiness, the cruelty, and the evil—no excuses, no apologists for crimes against humanity.
He was, you knew, telling the truth about the world in which you lived, casting light on our leaders and ourselves, letting no one off the hook. That lion’s roar that convulsed the air and made the leaves to quiver, the birds to grow silent, your heart to tremble and tremor.
Listening, you couldn’t shake it. Oh sure, you tried to exonerate yourself, excuse your ignorance, your hesitation, your evasion, but you knew it when turned a blind eye, a deaf ear, and your back--upon those who were crying out for your help, your support, your comfort.
So you found yourself drawn to his watery purgation, to be soaked and submerged, to be rinsed and scrubbed of the filth and the corruption of your own selfishness and the arrogance of your community and your country. Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit in me. Wash me Lord, wash me Lord, wash me, Lord, wash me Lord. A clean heart, a right spirit. Wash me, Lord. O wash me, Lord.
You were washed, and nevermore could you ignore your participation in the darkness that the world invites you to join. Nevermore could you protest your innocence, evermore were you called to join him in making the mountains fall, the road smooth for the One who is to come.
His name was John, a name that meant God is gracious. Gracious indeed, to be born of a woman and man who were beyond childbirth. They did not expect to raise a lion, but it was a lion indeed who became their son.
And so it was that the lion made way for the Lamb. One day, just like you, the One Who Was To Be arrived. The lion recognized Him, and seeing nothing that needed cleansing, protested. “Who am I that You should come to me?” But the Lamb insisted, and both of them emerged from the watery encounter with uncertainty and disorientation and bewilderment.
Lions who roam freely among humans are frightening and dangerous. They cannot be housebroken or domesticated. And so they ensnared this one and imprisoned him in a dungeon, “a cave of Christmas hidden in the center of the earth” *.
In the darkness, the burning and shining lamp was not extinguished. Nor was his uncertainty about the One whom he had heralded and washed. Like all wild animals, he knew that he was doomed for butchery. Indeed, the strains of merry music from the slaughterhouse party upstairs echoed off the cold and dank walls that imprisoned him. He needed conclusive confirmation to the fervent question of his soul, he needed to know if his lifetime of prophesy and deprivation had been for naught. Was he the One? Was he the Lamb, the Son of God?
Like you, he sent those he washed to find the answer. As he squatted in the putrid blackness of his cage, they went out to witness the truth. Even in a world filled with material greed, egotistical infidelity, merciless unkindness, and self-serving demagoguery, they discovered something else. And they came running back to the lion to let him know, speaking to the dark figure in the shadows of what they had seen and heard:
“We saw a mute man singing and laughing at a party with his family.”
“We saw a whole herd of pigs jump into the ocean, and a crazy man who suddenly was normal again.”
“We saw a storm suddenly disappear and someone walking on water, reaching down and catching a fish with his bare hands.”
“We saw an adulterous woman bake a cake for the priests who tried to have her stoned.”
“We saw a blind man crying because he was able to see his mother’s face again.”
“We saw a whole village kiss a leper.”
“We saw a man with a withered hand raise up a smiling baby for all to see.”
“We saw thousands of people feeding one another with five loaves and two fish.”
“We saw a dead man yawn and ask for some wine, a lame man dance a jig, a deaf child whistle a tune.”
“We saw people making sandwiches and offering them to the homeless.”
“We saw men and women visiting the sick, and the imprisoned, and the homebound.”
“We saw children entertaining old people, and old people blessing children.”
“We saw young men and young women respecting and honoring one another.”
“We saw brothers and sisters patiently forgiving one another, and enemies reconciling.”
“We saw people turning away from the lies and addictions of consumerism, and sharing the abundance of their wealth with those who were without.”
“We saw whole neighborhoods join together to stand up to bullies from the government.”
“We saw nations reaching out to one another to bring justice and peace and comfort to all their brothers and sisters, and to heal the creation which we have abused.”
As they spoke, the light in the Lion’s eyes grew brighter, blazing out like two flames into the darkness of the cave. After a long, burning silence, his followers heard a long sigh, and he moved closer, his face becoming visible. He no longer had the look of a wild beast. His features were softened, and relaxed in relief. His work, he knew, was complete. He spoke to his followers: “Go back, tell the Lamb that I am smiling.”
At that moment, the dungeon was filled with the sounds of boots on stone, the echo of clanging swords, the laughter of soldiers descending to the cage of the Lion. His followers cowed at their arrival. They opened the gates, unlocked his shackles, and jerked on his cloak of rags. It was time to lose his head to Herod. He would never see the consummation of the One he heralded. He would have no experience of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lamb. But he didn’t need to. The kingdom he had prepared for was already breaking into the world. They had confirmed it to him.
The blind could see, the deaf could hear, the lame could leap, the dead could rise, and love would win over and over and over and over and over again.
He ascended to the party, his eyes merry, his soul inspired.
You have seen him. We have all seen him. The nutjob, the psycho, the wild man, the lion in layers of rags, howling thunderously on our streetcorners and public squares. It is time for us who have been washed in his waters to bear the Kingdom of God to everyone we meet. We must assume his mission, you and I must be his voice, preparing the way for the Love that wants to be born again right now, right here, right now, right here, right now, right here, today.
* In gratitude to J Shea