John the Baptist is one of the unique figures in God’s plan of salvation. I often wonder how a parent of today would react to their son living the life John lived. His life did not conform to the rest of society. Yet his was a central figure in God’s plan of salvation. An angel speaking to his father said that “many would rejoice at his birth for he would be great in the sight of the Lord” (Lk.1:12ff). The angel continued by saying “he would be filled with the Spirit from the moment of his conception and would turn people to the Lord.”
I have often wondered how the people of today would respond to a character like John. Yet I know and believe that there is a combination of message and life style that can turn people to the Lord. If I did not believe that I would not be doing the things that I do in ministry and in my own efforts to evangelize. Why do we give a homily each and every week during our gathering to celebrate the Eucharist? We are to make the Word of God resonate with others so that they open their own hearts to God. We preach to make God not only real and alive and personal but to help you know what he is offering you.
That ability to make the word of God meaningful comes from our own experience and not our learning. We are not preaching to teach you something but to make something real for you. When John leapt in his mother’s womb as Mary approached he was acknowledging the presence of Jesus. His first act as an evangelist was to acknowledge Jesus as Lord. In his mothers womb, he could not see Jesus nor speak to him nor listen to him but he knew he was in the presence of the messiah. This should be a lesson for us to put aside our human means of seeking Jesus and just be in his presence and allow ourselves to respond to his presence.
The gospels do not tell us much more about the interaction of John and Jesus as they grew up but we can assume they had some interaction as cousins. We see them interact again in the gospels when John Baptizes Jesus. We hear John proclaim to his disciples that “Jesus is the Lamb of God.” John was prepared from birth to tell the world that the messiah was not only coming but to eventually tell the world – “THERE HE IS – BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD.”
It went beyond John just having knowledge of Jesus. It was a total experience of Jesus as Lord that caused John to leap in his mother womb. It reminds me of David “dancing before the Lord with all his might just wearing a linen ephod (apron)” (2 Sam. 6:14). It is the psalmist urging us to praise him with dancing (Ps. 149:3). John understood this and his question that he sent his disciples to ask of Jesus was not for his benefit but it was for their benefit.
John did not need proof that Jesus “was to one who was to come or should they look for another.” No John never had any doubts about who Jesus was or his own role in the plan of salvation. He was an evangelist who inspired others to repent and turn to the Lord. His power and conviction flowed out of his own interaction with Jesus before they were ever born. His power and insights were gifts of the Spirit that filled his heart from the moment of his conception. John understood that in order to truly repent and in order to truly change one’s life took more than a desire it took an experience with the person of Jesus.
That is why he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him “are you the one.” It was for them to hear his response and to consider the meaning of his response.
Jesus told them and he tells us not to look at anything we know about him. It is not how well we know Jesus in our theology or our sacraments but how we experience him in our lives that allow us to abandon all and dance before the lord. Jesus said – tell John what you experienced – the blind see, the lame walk, the dead are raised, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear. This is the heart of the gospel message it is not how much we learn but how much we experience.
That is why Jesus continues by praising John’s passion and dedication to the gospel. It is a message to us to look beyond the visuals and put aside our own quest for knowledge in order to experience the reality of forgiveness and begin to live a life in the kingdom of God.
The truth is many of us have never had an experience of God’s arms enfolding them and restoring them as he did the prodigal son. Many of us are continually repenting over sins committed and confessed more than half a century ago. They speak of hope for mercy not understanding what God offered us. He offered us forgiveness of sins and his love poured out into our hearts. Many have lived a life of faithfulness and striving to please God but have missed out on experiencing the love of God.
Today’s gospel is an invitation to move from knowledge of Christ to an experience of Christ. Our efforts in these last days of advent should be to open our hearts and invite Jesus to come into our heart. In prayer tell Jesus what you want more than anything else is to know what it feels like to be loved and cherished by God. What you want more is to know your life has been pleasing to God and for the rest of your life to experience his presence every day