Tuesday, 22 July 2014

JOHN 1: 29-34


                                                                
Throughout the Holy Gospel according to St. John there appears an ever increasing sense of urgency, through his use of introductory words such as ‘immediately’ , development around the theme of the Lord’s ‘hour’, or within the quickness of actions such as, though not observed but rather experienced in the tasting, when Jesus changes the water into wine at Cana.

Thus with v. 29 the Evangelist uses the word ‘immediately’, stressing the very next day, that is the second day of what, as we shall see, appears to have been a three day event, the first being the interrogation of the Baptist, when unfolds now the second day and later we shall see the events of the third day.

All woven together like a catechetical tapestry.

Within the aforementioned theme of urgency the Baptist is described as seeing Jesus ‘coming toward him.’

Was this Jesus emerging from the Jordan? Unlikely as the text would seem to indicate this was later as from the descriptive it would appear most of those listening to the Baptist had not been observers at the event with Jesus in the Jordan.

Perhaps it was indeed the next day.

There are another two threads which weave themselves throughout St. John’s Gospel and indeed in the Synoptics as well: 1] much toing and froing, which is lots of movement going places, people heading to meet Jesus, Jesus going to them, to meals, to healings, exorcisms; 2] proclamations which are sometimes parable teachings, other times glimpses by Jesus into who He really is, to responding to challenges from those who ultimately want to kill him.

Jesus certainly knew by approaching the Baptist for their encounter in the Jordan, and here, that He, Jesus, was irrevocably entering this ‘public’ life.

There would be no turning back.

His face now set firmly towards Jerusalem, which meant as well towards the garden of Gethsemane, the hill of Calvary, the awaiting tomb.

Like the echo of the exaltation which caused him to shudder with joy in his mother’s womb when he first encountered Jesus [cf. Lk.1:41], the Baptist in this instance [v.29,30] cannot contain himself and cries out, shouts, indeed commands: “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 is preferred before me, for He was before me! I did not know Him, but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefor I came baptizing with water.’”

BEHOLD! – Nowadays we rarely use that expression, more likely we shout: “LOOK!”  - or perhaps nonetheless seeking someone to pay attention would more mutedly ask: “Did you see THAT!”

Granted some persons, usually the very young, do go rather nuts when a celebrity of some type is within view, older people most often reserve their excitement for the head of state, Catholics certainly get excited when the Pope is in view – but here, in this instant, on this day, it is Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God who has come into view, more is publicly entering history in a way which through the millennia to this very moment, continues.

For several decades, and it is most sad, there have been and continue to be struggles in Catholic parishes about when and if to kneel, or not!

Really!

Jesus in all His Risen glory is in our midst, in every Holy Mass, every Holy Communion more than in our midst, in our very beings and He resides with us in the Tabernacle.

We have not simply lost a capacity for wonderment, for BEHOLD!, we seem to have lost an appreciation, a humble, childlike love for Him.

One woman crawled on her belly just to touch the hem of His garment, another knelt at His feet washing them with her tears and kissing them with love and gratitude.

The Magi knelt to lean into the manger to love and adore Him.

Jesus is such radiant love and mercy not merely does the question pose itself, why not kneel, but pushes further, why not prostrate and await His loving touch where He says: arise!

This ‘behold’ moment was the moment all creation, all humanity, the People of the Promise in particular had been waiting for across the millennia, the advent of the promised Messiah, the Christ.

The Baptist’s urgency is to call our attention to this tremendous advent, the import of the moment, the wonder of the One for whom this moment is: Jesus.

Something I have wondered about, for it is not explicit in the text, did the Baptist at this juncture suspect that soon Herodias would seek to have him killed?

None of the Gospels tell us precisely when he challenged Herod about his adultery but we do know ultimately this would cost St. John the Baptist his life.

It just seems to me perhaps some premonition added urgency, clarity, to his words about Jesus.

Certainly here he wastes no time further fulfilling his mission as the precursor of the Messiah, imbued as he is with the spirit of Elijah.

Again the Evangelist stresses that: “John bore witness, saying….”

In these verses 32-34 the Baptist reminds those who witnessed the event with Jesus in the Jordon, and informs those who did not, the reality both of what unfolded and the truth of the One now among us.

V.32- “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.”

When we are Baptised the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us, making us at the one and the same time: disciples of Christ, children of the Father, temples of Himself, the Holy Spirit and immersion in Baptism is to receive the gateway sacrament opening to us the life of sanctifying grace in all the other sacraments.

Jesus, second Person of the Holy Trinity, true God and true Man, always in communion/union of love with the Father and the Holy Spirit did not suddenly be taken up into that Trinitarian reality at the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him in the Jordon.

Rather this event is for our eyes confirmation of the always existing union of Jesus and the Holy Spirit and affirmation of the Spirit’s being with Jesus in His human life – just as in Baptism the Holy Spirit gifts Himself to us for our lives: clothing us with Christ, empowering us to cry Abba! Father!, teaching and sanctifying us.

v.33 – “I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”

THEOPHANY:  This is the English of the Greek word theophania, which means God revealing Himself, God appearing.

In the accounts of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordon found in Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22 we find details not present in the Baptist’s teaching above, namely the voice of the Father affirming Jesus is His Son and we must listen to Jesus.

Yet even in the Baptist’s words we have a theophany teaching for it is the Father who both has sent St. John the Baptist, indeed given him his Forerunner mission, tells him what to say/teach in this moment and, of course, the Baptist testifies also to seeing the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus, God in human nature yet remaining true God, Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

From this moment on, with absolute certainty, we know the one true God is one, yet a trinity of persons: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

St. John the Evangelist concludes with an explicit testimony, surely with the great behold still echoing in our hearts, from the Baptist, v. 34: “And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”

 

 

 

Friday, 4 July 2014

JOHN 1: 19-28


                                                                  JOHN 1: 19-28

These verses of dialogue between the Baptist and the emissaries of the religious leaders of the Chosen People, from Jerusalem as the Evangelist notes – Jerusalem being the fixed destination toward which Jesus deliberately will head to fulfill the will of the Father – is fascinating, illuminating dialogue:  equally a serious interrogation of the Baptist, and from him a brilliantly clear catechesis.

While not noted explicitly by the Evangelist no doubt there were various sources of the curiosity, itself a powerful human motivator on the personal level of the questioners, mingled with their mandate from their masters in Jerusalem.

 We can glean from the Synoptic Gospels the various events, both in the life of St. John the Baptist and of Jesus, which would have been known among many of the people at large, certainly by the religious authorities and likewise by the occupying Roman powers and their civil puppets, in the days when this event occurred, Herod and his minions.

Granted some thirty years had passed since the events in the Temple leading to the birth of the Baptist, the Roman census, the birth of Jesus, appearance of the Magi, the slaughter of the children by another Herod – but memory is powerful, a component of history and certainly along with the expectation of ordinary people, the hope filled longing for the promised Messiah, the religious authorities would be versed in the Scriptural promise.

It is, given their subsequent attitude towards Jesus and eventual determination to kill Him, unlikely that the emissaries were sent with a pure motive, for we know those who sent them were ferociously protective of their power, not unlike Herod and the Romans.

This gives critical importance to the way the Evangelist sets the stage for the exchange between the Baptist and his interrogators.

Verse 19 rather than beginning with some phrase such as ‘here is what John said ‘ – or – ‘this is the conversation between…’, stresses this is “the testimony”.

Like the Baptist before us, our whole lives of we the baptized, must be the Gospel lived without compromise. Therefore when asked about, or interrogated about in Whom we believe, we listen for the subtext, the real question being asked.

We do not so much speak/ reply as witness to, testify.

The Gospel is not spread, does no transfer from one human heart to another primarily by teaching, rather it is the radiance of witness which permeates the heart of another.

This is precisely what the Baptist does, testify: for he hears what is truly being asked.

v.19 – “Who are you?”

At this juncture the Evangelist twice uses the term ‘confessed’ as a descriptive of the Baptist’s response.

Most people hearing the terms ‘confessed, confesses, confession’ assume the reference is admission of guilt for some crime or sin.

There is another form of confession: confession of faith.

This is the articulation not primarily of a series of doctrines believed in but rather of testifying about the One in Whom we believe, the truth we have received from Him in the gift of faith received with Baptism.

In the case of St. John the Baptist much would have been illuminated within him through his profound listening silence during his desert years, so the Baptist does not tell them who he is, rather hearing the real question tells them, v. 20 –“I am not the Christ.”

He has heard the yearning of the People of the Promise, the Chosen People, the People of Israel and within them the yearning of every human being from Adam to every beating heart on earth today.

Then comes the second challenge of his interrogators, v. 21 – What then? Are you Elijah?”

If he is not the Messiah then they must probe, from their tradition about who will proceed the Messiah, a returned Elijah, if John is him, in other words is the Messiah coming soon?

The Baptist’s reply is succinct: “I am not.”

They reach back even further into Scripture, to the declaration of Moses [Deut.18: 15-19] as the promise of the Prophet, i.e. the Messiah.

“Are you the Prophet?’

“No.”

St. John the Baptist is a prophet, not the Prophet.

He is the last prophet of the Hebrew Scriptures.

After the Baptist the Father no longer sends ‘prophets’ to announce the promise, for in Jesus, the Prophet, the Messiah, the promise is fulfilled.

Jesus is the final word of the Father to us, the complete word, the redeeming, life-giving word.

Jesus is the fulfillment of the Father’s love for us.

Anyone claiming to be ‘the prophet’ since Jesus is a liar.

There is in the next question a degree of desperation, a sense of fearful urgency, on the surface because these minions must return to their masters with some answer – when in reality the deeper source of their question is the expectancy in every human heart of hearing, finally, that the Messiah is among us.

v.22 – “Who are you that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?”

It is very human to want to be able to define other – and this leads most of the time to us prejudicially putting one another in some kind of box.

It is a power and control thing.

The opposite of what Jesus does!

Jesus loves us as we are in the moment, for He knows who we are, children of the Father, sinners in need of redemption, beloved of God.

The Baptist does not allow himself to be defined, boxed in, and categorized according to whatever preconceptions his interrogators have.

This is the moment of catechesis!

v.23 – Drawing on Isaiah 40:3, the Baptist declares: ‘I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the Lord.”’

We the baptized live in an immense and complex wilderness of the cold darkness of the culture of death in what has been named the ‘post-Christian’ era; in the wilderness of anti-Christian governments, terrorists, and a media which is both anti-Christian and anti-life; in the wilderness of parishes which more often than not are mere liturgical gatherings of a Sunday rather than joyously vibrant communities of love; an era so anti-family as to be heartbreaking; an era of absolutely unnecessary poverty, homelessness, hunger, loneliness, because we live in the wilderness of ego, fear and greed.

How desperately our brothers and sisters who co-dwell with us in the vast wilderness need to hear our voice cry out!

v.24 – At this juncture the Evangelist introduces another group present at the interrogation of the Baptist who, apparently until now, have remained silent: the Pharisees.

Eventually they will become the prime challengers of Jesus and become so steeped in denial of Him, outright hatred of Him, they will egregiously violate the very Law they claim to treasure in order to kill Him.

For now they tip their hand, using a challenge they will later throw at Jesus, to wit ‘by what authority!’ – while not asked directly of the Baptist the challenge is implied, v. 25 – “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

Once again the Baptist will not be boxed in, rather he again seizes the moment to catechize.

v.26-27: “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know, it is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.”

Silence!

No expression of a desire to meet the Messiah, the Christ.

No further challenge.

Silence!

Perhaps they slunk away like the accusers of the woman caught in adultery.

The following verse is simply the Evangelist, after the Baptist’s humble catechesis, indicating where this event happened.

We are left to wonder what report the interrogators made back in Jerusalem to their masters.

Look closely at the sandal dangling from the foot of the Child in His Mother’s arms.

This icon, attributed to St. Luke, is almost like a quick snapshot taken in mid event.

Perhaps he asked Our Lady to pick up Jesus to make the original sketch and one sandal fell off, the other about to fall.

In any event Our Blessed Mother, like all mothers, was worthy to loosen and to put on the sandals of her child.

Jesus, through His redemptive Passion, Death, Resurrection, in the sacrament of Baptism, wherein we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to love and serve one another, makes us worthy to do more than loosen sandals, more than to wash feet in His memory, but grants that every act of love, every cup of water, morsel of food, care, visit given to another human being IS an act of loving service of Jesus Himself.

May She who cared for the Child help us to care for Him in one another.