A Cycle – 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 20
Jn. 1: 29 – 34
Have you ever wondered how or why John the Baptist said he did not know Jesus? John the Baptist was raised within walking distance of his cousin Jesus. We can easily conclude John was among the “relatives” Mary and Joseph thought Jesus was with after their trip to the temple in Jerusalem. John would have heard the talk about how young Jesus was found conversing with the teachers and asking them questions, astounding those listening to him. When John said, he did not know him, he was saying he knew the human Jesus but did not until that moment know Jesus as Lord and savior until Jesus entered the waters and as the Holy Spirit came upon him.
This passage from the gospel of John reveals something to us about the journey of all of us who believe in and profess a faith in Christ. There must come a moment of revelation where all our knowledge and all our attempts to strengthen our faith by seeking to understand is gaining us nothing until we have an encounter with Christ which challenges all our knowledge about Jesus. We like all the great figures in the scriptures must set aside all our understanding of Christ and allow the Spirit to reveal Him to us.
We must remember the words of Jesus in that upper room when he said, it was better for us that he go for if he did not go the Spirit would not come. Then he said the Spirit would glorify him and remind us of all Jesus said and did. It is in that instant of revelation we know like Aquinas that all we have learned is nothing compared to the reality of who Jesus is.
The simple fact is like John we have a one dimension knowledge about Jesus but we need to encounter the fullness of Jesus. We need to know more than he died for our sins, or he is always with us, or he is the way to the Father. We need to learn more about his heart. We need to feel his touch, his love, his compassion, his forgiveness and we must learn to trust he will reveal all of himself to us if we are willing to trust his way to holiness.
The life of John the Baptist shows us how easily we can become fixated on one aspect of Jesus and miss the grace of “knowing” him.
John the Baptist would have had more information about Jesus than we have because he interacted with him and heard the stories about those who were healed by him, who listened to him and were changed by him. But he still had not personally encountered the divine power to change seekers into disciples. This is where we find ourselves. We know so much about Jesus we believe but we have not personally encountered him as the lepers did, as the woman caught in adultery did, or as the thief on the cross discovered. John’s intimate knowledge about Jesus and his statement about not knowing him should be enough of a reason to move us to reflect on what our knowledge of Jesus is founded on.
Paul, a Pharisee, would have learned all the prophetic passages that were recorded about the coming messiah. He would have been able to recite the prophetic utterance to anyone and clearly articulate the signs that would accompany his arrival. He would have heard all the intellectual discussions about him. Paul had the knowledge to easily connected the dots from his birth in Bethlehem to his coming out of Nazareth. He would have heard Jesus’ teachings if not firsthand, he would have heard the people recounting the words of Jesus and speaking of his miracles.
Paul’s knowledge of Jesus shows how intellect can blind us and cause us to “act religious but reject the power that could make us godly” (2 Tim. 3:5 NLT). Paul speaking from experience is warning us to see how easy it is to believe we know Jesus when we have not experienced Jesus. Paul warns us not fall into the trap he fell into and his conversion story should be reason enough for us to reflect on how our understanding of Jesus can motivate us to deny Jesus even as we are eager to encounter Jesus.
The truth is most of us have a significant amount of knowledge about the person of Jesus. We can easily tell others Jesus is the Savior, the messiah, the son of God, the Prince of Peace, the Lamb of God and on and on. We can easily proclaim his presence in the Eucharist, but do we know him. Consider how we know facts about certain athletes, celebrities, famous politicians or historical figures. People have written books about people long dead by researching their lives and their words. But they never met them and because they never met them, they do not “know” them.
How do we move from knowing about Jesus to knowing Jesus?
We do have a desire to know him and that is why we are faithfully living our lives by being here each week and through our attending the programs offered to enhance our spiritual growth.
John instinctively knew the Messiah’s coming was eminent. He felt the call to prepare the way and he responded to the call of God to announce the coming of the Messiah. His instincts were to respond to the Messiah when he appeared. In fact, John, still in his mother’s womb, responded when Mary greeted Elizabeth. That stirring was a move of the Spirit not the intellect. John at that point in the womb of his mother was unencumbered by the intellect we humans cannot seem to set aside in order to grow in the Spirit.
Paul was plagued by that same intellectual knowledge that blocks us from opening our hearts in order to have the eyes of our hearts see the God who loves us enough to send us his only son. What made the difference in John’s awareness of who Jesus was? It was a personal encounter with Jesus and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
We who have been baptized, should pray for Jesus to – baptize us in Spirit and Fire. For that to happen we need to be seeking more than intellectual knowledge about Jesus. We need to be seeking the person of Jesus, who is eager to embrace us and change us so like John the Baptist and Paul we can say, “we never knew him” but now we proclaim him as Lord. Come Holy Spirit, come and change our hearts.