The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

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Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I Did Not Know Him

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, `After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.' I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel."
(John (RSV) 1:29-31)

How did John The Baptist not know Jesus?

Twice in this reading from last Sunday's Gospel John says, “I myself did not know him.” How can that be? After all they were cousins were they not?

During Advent we heard the story of Mary visiting her kinswoman, Elizabeth. The exact relationship of Elizabeth to Mary remains a bit of mystery. She might have been a cousin, or an aunt. No one really knows for sure, and the Greek and Latin words used in Luke 1:36 do not really specify an exact relationship though some translations including the King James Version have taken the liberty to call her a cousin. What we do know is that she was some how related to Mary and that when Blessed Mother approached...John recognized The Christ.

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb;

(Luke (RSV) 1:41)

That babe, of course, was John. It seems logical that Jesus and John must have known each other growing up, right? Well remember that the Holy Family left the area and went to Bethlehem, where Christ was born, and then escaped to Egypt to avoid Herod’s slaughter of all male children under the age of two. When they returned from Egypt, they settled in Nazareth. Scripture doesn’t tell us where John was, but we do know that eventually John took off to live as a hermit in the desert, and many scholars have him living with the Essenes, that devout sect of Judaism who collected what we now know as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

So when Christ approached him, the way that he knew Our Lord as the Messiah was when he saw the Holy Spirit descend like a dove and rest upon Jesus. How interesting to ponder whether John ever knew of his familial relation to Christ. He never addresses Him as his kinsman. Rather John refers to himself as a friend of the bridegroom and even continues to baptize people in the old Jewish tradition after Christ has left him, though he tells his followers that his mission has been fulfilled and the he must decrease while Christ increases.

Perhaps one act of his decreasing came after his arrest when he sent his disciples to Christ:

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me."
(Matthew (RSV) 11:2-6)

Meditate upon the following:

If you were to see Christ approaching you, what emotions would be stirred? If you looked across the room; across the coffee shop; across the office, wherever you are right now reading this, and there was Christ walking towards you...what do you feel?

A sense of unworthiness?
A desire or need to prostrate yourself?
Absolute joy?
Doubt of the authenticity of the encounter?
Do you do the equivalent of throwing yourself out of the boat and swimming to greet Him as Peter did in the last chapter of John?

Would you even know Christ if you saw Him?

One common characteristic of many of the saints was their ability to see Christ in all those who approached them. One easily finds The Christ in the believer, the friend, the relative, the spouse, the child, and even the poor. Christ can be seen in every human being, even the most ardent non-believer. Carryll Houselander authored a beautiful book titled The Reed of God in which she describes in one chapter the many ways one sees Christ in others. Perhaps most compelling was her referencing that Christ is visible even in the soul of the one who is in mortal sin. In this person the risen Christ is not seen; nor the suffering Christ; nor the healing Christ. For this person what is seen is Christ dead in the tomb.

Does this not depict an icon for the twenty-first century culture? The body of Christ waiting to be resurrected. As annoying as news of Britney Spears can be, is there not a hope that Christ will be resurrected in her heart and she stop her self-destructive behavior? As horrifying as the abortionist who takes a blasé approach to killing can be, does not hope exist that Christ will rise from within him and convert him from the evil that he does? As frightening as the Islamic terrorist might be, does not the hope exist that Christ will ascend from the darkness of his heart and turn him towards the way of truth and life? Christ dead in the tomb describes these characters and many more who are players in this culture of death.

And yet Christ lives. He approaches us and we approach Him. Think again about your response to Our Lord should He walk in your direction. Now consider that most beautiful, perfect moment in your day or week when you approach His body, blood, soul, and divinity...freely and without reservation or fear. That moment you gaze upon Him and exclaim in your heart as Thomas did in awe, "My Lord and my God."

"Behold the lamb of God!" were John's words that the Catholic priest today proclaims as he elevates the consecrated host. John may not have known the man, but he knew The Christ. John didn't know in what person the Messiah would come to him, only that he would indeed come. Is not modern man in the same boat? For one does not know where or in whom Christ will approach one, but it takes only a little faith, a mustard seed-sized amount, to know that one will indeed be approached.

How will you respond to that event?


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