Last Monday we celebrated the feast of the Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan River. Today’s readings invite us to continue reflecting on the meaning of that great event, which we also ponder in the Rosary as the First Mystery of Light. It is as though the liturgy is telling us that one day or one week is simply not enough to take in the richness of this mystery. In Monday’s gospel, we heard the voice of the Father, who declared that Jesus is truly his “beloved Son.” Today we focus on the testimony of John the Baptist, who, echoing the words of the Father, declares about Jesus, “This is God’s chosen One.”
At first, however, John did not recognize him, as he humbly admits twice in today’s reading. This confession takes us by surprise. John was sent by God to prepare the way and to point out the One who was to come. How is it that he who sensed the nearness of the Lord and leapt for joy even in the womb was slow to recognize him at the Jordan? Probably John is not saying he did not know who Jesus was, but that he did not realize that the time had come for Jesus’ mission to be made known. Also, John was not expecting Jesus to begin his public ministry in such simplicity. He had been preaching that the Messiah would come soon with a mighty display of power, to set things right, separating the wheat from the chaff. But Jesus came to the river in poverty and humility, asking for baptism along with the crowd of lowly sinners.
At this moment John’s eyes are opened. Being a humble man himself, he is not attached to his own expectations. Always attentive to the promptings of the Lord, he is able to recognize quickly that this is indeed the One “who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” John exclaims aloud with delight what he proclaimed wordlessly in the womb thirty years earlier: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”
“The Lamb of God!” This is a new title for Jesus. The Beloved Son of the Father comes among us as a spotless Lamb, the perfect sacrificial offering. He comes to take away sin. At every Mass the priest repeats John’s words as he holds up the Eucharist, “Behold the Lamb of God.” What a blessing it is to be called to the supper of the Lamb!
However, our first encounter with the Lamb who takes away sin is not in the Eucharist, but in the Sacrament of Baptism. When we were baptized, the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection was applied to us personally. We received the Holy Spirit; we were freed of all sin and made holy; we were filled with divine light. Now the words of the prophecy in the first reading, which apply especially to Jesus, can also be applied to us: “It is too little for you to be my servant . . . I will make you a light to the nations.” When the light of the Lord shines in our hearts, we truly become a light for others.
These ideas of being free from sin and filled with light are not just symbols or abstract concepts. This is what it means to be a Christian. In the second reading, Paul describes well our identity as baptized Christians: Christians are those “who have been consecrated in Christ Jesus and called to be a holy people.” Baptism has changed us radically, has made us a new creation. If we could see the real change that takes place when a child is baptized, we would be astounded. It is the same child, yet spiritually so glorious we would barely be able to recognize him. John did not recognize Jesus because his greatness was hidden behind his poverty, and this surprises us. But we do not recognize Jesus either, and we do not recognize ourselves, for the same reason. We not only forget the treasure we have received, we also lose all awareness of our own greatness as children of God.
How often do we fail to recognize Jesus’ presence in our life! When we focus only on the things of the world, we end up longing for no more than what the world has to offer. So much of the time we are preoccupied with less important things, which easily crowd out what is more important. The sad result is that we do not shine light for others, but contribute to the world’s darkness.
As we pause in prayer now, we fix the gaze of our heart on the Lord. When we do this, we can see worldly things in their proper perspective: they have value only insofar as they serve the Kingdom of God, which is the Kingdom we belong to! Let us return to the Lord, praying, “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will!”
When do I find it difficult to recognize the Lord in his simplicity and poverty? Am I preoccupied with the things of this world? Filled with the grace of baptism, am I a source of light for others?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 13, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.