2nd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
John the Baptist says about Jesus twice tonight: “I did not know him.” How does John the Baptist not know Jesus? When John was still in Elizabeth's womb, he leaped for joy in the presence of Jesus – who was still in Mary's womb. John spent most of his adult life wandering the wilderness as a prophet for the Christ, occasionally venturing into civilization to preach repentance and baptize sinners. We know from Luke's gospel that John was reluctant to baptize Jesus b/c John knew who Jesus was. However, tonight we read that the Baptist doesn't know him. . .until the Holy Spirit reveals who he really is. We could say that John didn't recognize Jesus as Jesus. Like we don't recognize an old friend who's gotten fat and bald over the years. But it would seem strange that the Holy Spirit would be needed to help John recognize the man, Jesus. John recognizes Jesus as Jesus. But with the grace of the Holy Spirit he comes to know Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. Thus, he says, “I did not know him [then], but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” John's mission then is our larger mission now – to make Christ known to world.
To make Christ known to the world would seem to be an easy feat during this technologically advanced age. How easy is it to get on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. and send out thousands of messages about the Father's freely available mercy through His Christ? Very easy. I see it everyday. We have EWTN; international, national, and local Catholic radio; dozens of Catholic magazines, journals, newspapers; literally, thousands of Catholic blogs, websites, businesses. Not to mention diocesan publications, book publishers, university presses, parish bulletins, bookstores. The Word is out. If you were ask random people in random cities, “Who is Jesus?” I bet you that they would say, “The Christ” – or something similar. Even if they know nothing else about him, they would know that the two words “Jesus” and “Christ” go together like a first and last name! So, our job is done, right? We can all go home. Not just yet. Notice: John recognized Jesus as Jesus. But he did not know him as the Christ. . .until the Holy Spirit revealed to him who Jesus really is. I would recognize Pope Francis on the street. But that doesn't mean that we are friends. Much less best friends. Willing to die for love of one another.
When I teach CCC to the seminarians, we always discuss the relationship with reason and revelation. Human reason and divine revelation. For Catholics, these two form the foundation of all human knowledge. They cannot contradict one another b/c they share the same source – God Himself. We know from Thomas Aquinas that reason can tell us only that God is and what God is.* If we want to know who God is, we must rely on divine revelation; in other words, only God can tell us who He truly is. You may recognize Jesus, but do you know him as the Christ? Better yet: do you know him as a friend? I don't mean like a drinking or a fishing buddy, or a girlfriend to go lunch with. I mean as a true friend. Aquinas tell us that “a friend is called a man's 'other self',” quoting St. Augustine, "Well did one say to his friend: Thou half of my soul” (ST I-II.28.1). A friend is the other half of your soul. We might imagine the not-yet-born John leaping in the presence of his not-yet-born friend, the other half of his soul, Jesus. Can you imagine yourself leaping with joy in the presence of the other half of your soul? Christ promotes his disciples from servants to friends before his death on the cross. He wanted to die knowing that his former students would go out into the world as his friends – his other half – making the Father's mercy known to all the nations.
How do we come to know Jesus the Christ as a friend, a true friend? First, we have stop thinking of friendship in purely worldly terms. Acquaintances aren't friends. Co-workers may be friends, but they aren't friends because they are co-workers. Think for a moment: who in your life right now possesses the other half of your soul? If you are married, I hope you thought of your spouse! Who do you trust to die for you, if necessary? That's the kind of friendship Christ offers to us. Second, true friendship is about intimacy – closeness, familiarity, affection. We can become better friends with Christ though the sacraments, of course, especially confession and the Eucharist. But we can also grow daily in our affection for him and with him through the intimacy of prayer. Not just ritual prayer but the sincere outpouring of our hearts to him in silence. No secrets. No dark corners. Just pour it all out to him. Lastly, we can become better friends with Christ by becoming better friends with one another. Jesus himself says that we cannot claim to love him if we hate our neighbor. We serve him when we serve one another without counting the cost. He did not count the cost of his friendship with us when he went to the cross. He just went. And died for love of us.
The Holy Spirit revealed to the world that Jesus is the Christ. We know this about Jesus. But do we know Jesus? I mean, are you friends with Jesus? True friends? John recognizes Jesus but doesn't know him. At least, not until the dove appears in the sky and the Father's voice reveals who Jesus really is. John had a dove and a voice. We have the advantage of 2,000+ years of tradition, Church teaching, philosophical and theological investigation, and all the saints on the calendar bearing witness! Do you recognize Jesus? Or do you know him? And if you know him, do you count yourself among his friends?
* These two philosophical questions cover God's existence and His divine attributes (simple, omnipotent, eternal, etc.).
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