January 15, 2023 at St William Catholic Church in Naples, FL
Isaiah 49: 3-6 + Psalm 40 + I Corinthians1: 1-3 + John 1: 29-34
This Gospel passage today sets a trap for us that we must avoid if we are going to hear God speak to us today through the Gospel. That trap is one I have spoken of over and over not just here during Mass, but also in talks I gave here last year with Luke and are scheduled this year with Matthew. This is not history. If we listen to these verses thinking that the Evangelist is telling us about an event that occurred between John the Baptist and Jesus, we’re done for. This is theology. This is revelation. It is proclaimed here to lead us more deeply into the mystery of who Jesus Christ was and still is. Evidence that this is not a report of an historical event is there if you match up the accounts of the Baptism in each of the Gospels. Details do not match because this is not a news report. Each Gospel has something different to reveal through this story.
With that in mind, we take up this story that begins the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. This is a recognition scene a story told to reveal who Jesus is. It is not about his Baptism. John’s Gospel is a whole series of recognition scenes partial recognitions and failed attempts to recognize Jesus. Today the Evangelist wants us to recognize Jesus not tell us about a Baptism. In fact, if you paid attention, there is no mention of or description of a Baptism in these verses.
With that clear, since it is not about a Baptism, the Baptist steps forward as the first in this series of recognitions. There will be others like Philip and Nathanael before this chapter ends. A very important word in the Scriptures is spoken here. John invites us to “Behold” who is in our midst. The Evangelist will have Pilate use the same word when he presents the King of the Jews. Pilate and others failed to recognize the identity of Jesus Christ.
The writer of this Gospel would have been very familiar with a technique in Greek drama that provided the spectators with information the characters did not have. This raised the expectations and interest of the spectators who could then watch the characters either come to recognize or fail to recognize what was known to the spectators. With the information the Baptist gives us in these verses, we will be able to anticipate and follow the characters in this Gospel both recognize and fail to recognize who is in their midst. It’s all about this recognition and those who do and those who do not. We can watch the characters of this Gospel from the Baptist, to Philip, Nathanael, Peter, all the way up to Pilate and a Centurion at the foot of the cross.
We are presented with an invitation today still at the beginning of a new year to “Behold” the one who has come into our midst. We can either be among those who recognize that divine presence or among those who fail to do so. For those who fail to recognize the one who is to come, nothing ever changes and there is nothing to live for and nothing to die for because there is no love. For those who do recognize what is revealed, everything changes. When we meet the Jesus of the Gospels we cannot see the world as before. After hearing Jesus in the Gospels, peace, justice, and forgiveness are possible in ways we could not imagine before. When we see the world through the eyes of Jesus we can step out of the shadows of hatred and revenge into the light of understanding with a chance to heal our brokenness and mend our relationships. We can become seekers of hope who reach out with compassion to the lost, lonely, sinful, and hurt.
My friends, we are now the ones who proclaim the “Lamb of God” through our own acts of generosity, justice, and forgiveness because the mercy of God has dawned on us. Now, others may “Behold” because of us as some did in the past because of the Baptist. Knowing, believing this truth changes our relationships with each other too. It draws us together and deeper into the mystery and wonder of who we are and why we are. What we can behold transforms our vision, our perspective, our expectations of this life and the life to come. We are both prophet and witness to the Lamb of God before whom we fall to our knees again and again.