Last week, with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we officially ended the Christmas season and entered ordinary time. The feast is liturgically fitting because it introduces Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry. Today’s passage seems to be a repetition of the same event except from a different perspective. Last week, we witnessed the perspective of the Father who declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Today’s perspective came from John the Baptist, proclaiming, “Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”
This is a breathtaking declaration for someone who admitted twice, “I did not know him” (Jn 1:31, 33). How did John arrive at this profound declaration of faith? What can we learn from him?
We might be tempted to dismiss John’s admittance that he did not know Jesus. After all, were they not cousins? Luke recorded that when Mary greeted her cousin Elizabeth, she announced, “at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy” (Lk 1:44). Does John not remember? But then again, how many of us remember what we heard or felt when we were still in the womb? Not remembering surely cannot erase what in fact did take place. How then did John retrieve this memory?
Maybe the combination of the voice of “the one who sent me to baptise with water told me” and the fact that Jesus came toward John reminded him too much of what had taken place thirty years before. Origen, commenting on this passage, noted that in the same manner that Mary, the mother of God, made the first move toward Elizabeth, so too, Jesus, “the one who comes after me but ranks ahead of me,” also made the first move toward John. Scriptures noted that both encounters were enfolded within the presence of the Holy Spirit. And if what Jesus later declared about the Holy Spirit is true, namely, that “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you,” then it is precisely the Holy Spirit that provided the encounter and remembrance (Jn 14:26).
What triggered this remembrance? Origen commented, “Men are first prepared by hearing from others, and then see with their own eyes.” In fact, hearing and seeing triggered all the memories for John: that he first heard the voice of Jesus through Mary, then the voice of his conscience and then seeing Jesus approaching and seeing the descent of the Holy Spirit: “On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit. Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”
John’s journey of faith began at the very beginning of his life in the womb. He rediscovered it through listening and seeing through the Holy Spirit. Can I learn from John’s example? Can I accept that God already chose me from my mother’s womb? Do I listen well to the Holy Spirit or am I distracted by other voices? Can I observe and see current events and rightly connect them to past memories of God in my life? What memories of my past need to be reconciled and let go so that the good memories emerge? May John who led others to Jesus continue to guide us on our journey to Jesus.
*Abbot of St. Martin Abbey Lacey, Washington
By Fr Marion Nguyen, osb *