The most challenging and yet interesting classes I had in the seminary were the three courses on scripture. Our teacher was a true biblical scholar who once said he could lecture all day on one word of scripture. He challenged us to think beyond the words to see the revelation of God’s plan and love for us.
I am grateful for his wisdom to teach us how to take one word or phrase and know that it does not stand alone in scripture. The word of God is a continuous dialogue of his great love for us and his revelation of how we, his greatest creation will live in an intimate loving relationship with him as he intended from the beginning of time.
Today John the Baptist tells us something we know but somehow we do not grasp its significance for us. “I did not know him but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me on whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” These words have deep meaning for us and we should not let this day go by without taking the time to reflect on them and realize how important they are for us to open our hearts to be loved into wholeness.
I would like you to take a minute to reflect on what John says as he begins this statement. John said “I did not know him but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” John continued saying “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him. I did not know him.” We know John knew Jesus. The scriptures tell us he leapt in his mother’s womb as Mary approached his mother. John responded to the presence of Jesus before he ever laid eyes upon him. Why would John say he did not know Jesus?
John words are telling us something about our own knowledge of Christ. We know him as our savior. We have a developed theology of Jesus that we can discuss with others. We know him in the Eucharist and we know he ascended to heaven where he sits at the right hand of God. I could go on but you get the point. We know Jesus but do we truly know Jesus.
I think what John was saying to us was like us he knew all about Jesus but never understood how Jesus fit in the plan of God to restore us to holiness. John even accepted his role in salvation history of preparing the way for the Lord. John like many Jews of his day was looking for the Lion of Judah not the Lamb of God.
However, on that day in the Jordan when Jesus knelt before John and asked him to baptize him something happened. John had an experience of both the savior and the Holy Spirit. It was that experience that impacted John’s heart, mind, strength and soul.
From that day on John the Baptist words brought about a desire in the people to know God not just things about God. John understood from his own experience that he could only point the way to Christ but to fully know Christ each and every one of us needs to encounter Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. We then can acknowledge Jesus as savior and open ourselves up to the infilling of the Holy Spirit.
God’s plan for us to be holy was laid out in the scriptures and the plan was clear – the Lamb of God would die for the forgiveness of our sins and the Holy Spirit would be given to us so we would not only know and feel God’s forgiveness but be transformed into holy men and women.
God made us a promise in two prophesies about how he was going to change our hearts so we would always be faithful to his will for us. In those two prophesies God was telling us how we would always live a live pleasing to him. God was going to make our faith a heart lived faith versus a faith based on knowledge of God. We would more than know him we would be in intimate union with him.
Through the prophet Jeremiah he tells us “I will put my law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33). Through the prophet Ezekiel he tells us “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ez. 36:26).
With a heart changed by the Spirit our entire faith system will change. Paul says to us in Romans 8:2 “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” In another passage he tells us that the law was our disciplinarian until the Spirit came. We are now free from the law because the Spirit will lead us to live according to God’s will.
The Spirit also will reveal the truth about God’s mercy and forgiveness. The scriptures tell us nothing can separate us from the love of God. Yet we feel separated because we do not understand that the penalty for our sin was paid by Jesus. We are free from the penalty of sin and the barrier sin puts between us and God.
Today’s gospel is a reminder of how we do not know how passionately God desires us to know we are forgiven and loved. John is reminding us how God desires us to do more than to know him. He desires us to allow his love to change us from blind obedience to zealous followers. After all the only way we will enter the kingdom is by being born of water and the Spirit (Jn. 3:5). It is so easy to have our hearts changed we only need to invite the Holy Spirit to pour the love of God into our hearts (Rm. 5:5).