Gordon Brown during his time as Prime Minister was frequently referred to as ‘a Son of the Manse’. Theresa May was the daughter of a vicar. John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, was a priest. Discuss!
Zechariah and Elizabeth, both Levites, had no children. Some of their joy at John’s birth must have been in the presumption that he would one day be a priest; the hereditary line would not be broken. But against his family’s wishes he was given a new name for a new role. There was little priest-like about John when he grew up. In his camel-hair tunic he appears to have reacted against expectations of how a priest should be; more of a prophet than a priest.
Throughout the Hebrew Bible prophets emerge rather than inheriting their role. When the time is right, the Holy Spirit intervenes with a fresh voice to challenge the complacency and injustice of the status quo. And so it appears with John – a voice crying in the wilderness.
But John the prophet retains a priestly role. Just as Samuel the prophet chose David to be king. Samuel, also a Levite, performed the priestly task of anointing him. Joshua had led the wandering followers of Moses across the Jordan to new life in the Promised Land. John the prophet identifies Jesus as the new David but at the insistence of Jesus, John performs the priestly task of baptising Him in the same River Jordan.
Jesus was a prophet who ‘did not shout aloud’ but his baptism establishes Him as the new David.
Jesus wasn’t a Levite. He was more at home on the hillside or in people’s homes than in the temple. Like us at our baptism, however, He was anointed priest, prophet and king. Thanks to John the Baptist.