Did the Russians hack the DNC’s emails?
If they did, was it to promote the Trump campaign?
Is man-made global warming a Chinese lie?
Is Obamacare a terrible thing for America?
Did Hillary Clinton commit crimes involving money and influence when she was Secretary of State?
Does Hillary belong in jail?
Is America a great nation? Was it greater once? When?
What makes a nation great anyway?
Until recently, fake news was pretty much confined to the tabloids in the grocery store. You know them. The ones that run cover pictures of Prince Charles and Camilla, a crown on her head, and a headline that says Prince Charles Seizes Throne. Everybody knows this news is fake.
But this year, in addition to all the usual fakes: fake cures for cancer, fake healers, fake preachers telling you God wants to make you rich, and God wants to fix everything you don’t want in your life, just give me your money and I’ll make it happen. In addition to these charlatans, now there is fake news being run online every day.
And every one of the claims in the questions listed above is considered fake news by some papers and by some news channels on TV, and by many people who rely on these news outlets to tell them the truth. And others, other papers, other channels, other people, consider all these claims to be the truth.
And this is the kind of false claims, and false voices about truth that were speaking two millennia ago, when John the Baptist left Jerusalem to become the Voice Crying In the Wilderness around the Jordan river.
He denounced all the corruptions he could see. Roman. Israeli. Priestly. Royal. Personal sins, like cheating your neighbor, amassing wealth, not sharing.
Provincial Roman Governor, King, High Priest, he called them all corrupt. He was sure enough about what he believed to walk out on the whole project of Jewish life. He shed everything, house, work, social connections, even his clothing. He donned a camel skin to cover his nakedness.
He wanted nothing at all that came from the social reality of Hebrew life in his time. He ate only what he could find. Locusts. Wild honey. The occasional fish. He did all of this to be rid of the soul corruption he saw and heard in everyone in power in Herod’s day, in Caesar’s reign, and in ritual religious life.
He never seemed to doubt himself. He was unshakeable in his opinions. And one of his opinions was that God wanted the whole world to live together as brothers and sisters. So he baptized people, people of every religion, men and women together, by these names: Brother. Sister.
When Jesus showed up, John baptized him. And called him the Beloved of God. And told folks Jesus was the one they had all been waiting for.
But then he began to be unsure. For all his dislike of power and majesty, and for all his disdain for expensive clothing, he expected the Messiah might deliver him from Herod. And he wasn’t seeing any grand gesture.
He sent Jesus a message; Are you the one? Are you the one we are waiting for – or not?
And Jesus responds – to all of us – asking:
What were you expecting? Someone dressed in silks and robes? Someone strutting pompously Someone who did what you expected?
We always are, really.
That’s why we are taken in by fakes, who strut and gloat and preen and praise themselves just the way we hoped they might.
Fake news is a kind of mirror really, showing us what we long to see: our desires and our fears. And it must have been like that for Wildman John, for noble John, whose true heart broke inside him when Herod arrested him, when he was slammed in a cell and told he would have his head sliced off to satisfy the whim of a dancing girl and the pent up hatred of a king who had stolen his throne.
How could it be that the Messiah, the Holy One of God, could be so near, and yet not save him from humiliation and death?
Are you the one we have been waiting for? John, at the last, loses the one thing he still has: his certainty.
Jesus will remember him in the years ahead, in the parable about the man who sells all his possessions, all, all, all, to buy the pearl without price – and this pearl is the kingdom of heaven.
John was a good man, Jesus says when he hears of John’s death. Tell that fox Herod I live, and am doing the miracles I came to do.
And that’s the news that’s fit to print.
Image: Baptism of Jesus. Mid 12th c. Mosaic, Capella Palatina di Palermo, Palermo, Italy. Vanderbilt Divinity School Library, Art in the Christian Tradition.