December 16, 2016
Gospel Jn 5:33-36
Jesus said to the Jews:
“You sent emissaries to John, and he testified to the truth.
I do not accept testimony from a human being,
but I say this so that you may be saved.
John was a burning and shining lamp,
and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light.
But I have testimony greater than John’s.
The works that the Father gave me to accomplish,
these works that I perform testify on my behalf
that the Father has sent me.”
Dear fellow pilgrims,
Are you awake yet? As in, are you actually experiencing the season of Advent yet? If you aren't, I suggest you get in touch with your inner St. John the Baptist and start getting a little zealous and excited.
John the Baptist is one of my favorite saints, and not only because we share similar hairstyles, temperaments, and enjoy honey more than the average person. We have already heard the readings from Isaiah that prefigure John the Baptist as the "voice calling out from the desert: prepare the way of the Lord," and now, Jesus himself provides another analogy to think about him, as a lamp, a light, a fire that illuminated truths about God that people were "content to rejoice in." John's life attracted people like moths to a flame; people in the darkness were seeing a light, but his light was only the small light that would guide them to an even greater Light, the greatest light the world would ever see.
There are so many beautiful parallels that reveal themselves when you think about how John the Baptist prefigures the story of Christ (e.g. Martyrdom, baptism as a prefiguring of the Cross and Resurrection, a man despised and set apart from common society only to be rejected...) but there is one that particularly relates to the season of Advent is one of birth. And, relatedly, how the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist illuminates His willingness to share the spotlight and divine mission with humanity.
Baptism is often compared to a "new birth," being born again into the life of Christ... so what use of it to Jesus to get baptized? There is is a simple WWJD answer (I.e. Jesus did it and so should you!), but there's another answer that includes how this gesture symbolizes Jesus' full embrace of humanity in His Person, His very Being. In the same way that us humans are baptized into the life of God, the Baptism of Jesus shows us how He also, in a way, is baptized into, or divinizes, our human life. There was nothing He would say no to that would draw us further towards Him, that would liken our life experiences to His. (Of course, sin is not included in this prize package, because sin, no matter how small or "ordinary," is no prize.)
One specific thing about being human that is revealed in the baptism of Christ is in how He allows and welcomes when humans minister to Him. But when you think about it, Jesus had already spent a good portion of His life being ministered to, just like any other human. In the womb, we begin our lives completely dependent upon our mothers, and then are born and are still dependent, but just upon a wider network of people. In a very Western view of human development, milestones in human life can be seen through the lens of moving from dependence to ever increasing independence and responsibility, but the life of our Lord completely shatters this notion. Jesus has come to serve and lead humans back to glory, but this does not preclude the participation of many humans in this divine mission; in fact, that is the end goal!
This truth teaches us something about our humanness that we could only have learned through the perfection of his Incarnation: to be human is to embrace dependency, and to live in communion and trust of others, even though many will betray you. Many do not see His Light, many look for other signs, many do not see what His works point to.
The beauty of this truth is seen first in Mary, in her open heart to receive the Lord in her body, to care for and adore Him in relative obscurity for nine months, and then, the during early "hidden years" of His childhood upbringing. It's also seen when Jesus asks the Samaritan woman for a drink, because He is thirsty. It's also seen when He calls The Twelve, so He is not alone in His ministry. It's also seen when, during His Passion, Veronica wipes His Face as the women weep over Him. But Jesus' submission to human dependency is most tragically seen in the Passion throughout its entirety, as He does not herald His very real Divine authority over those who condemn Him to death. Our Lord's dependence on humanity leads to His death, but only to show us the depth of His love, the Divine Mercy that longs so much to save us all from a life of being merely human, merely a creature disposed to our creatureliness. His Resurrection shows us that we have a pathway to become a new creation, born of the unrelenting commitment of God to His People.
And so, I invite all your inner John the Baptists to awaken... May we serve the Lord in the works He offers us to do, in imitation of His dependency, and know that this is an unrepeatable part of the salvation of the world, and the protection of His Body.