Jan. 15, 2023
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
I Corinthians 1:1-3
Woven through the history of God’s covenant with his people are stories and testimonies of prophets. There are major prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. And there are minor prophets such as Hosea, Micah and Malachi. Though they lived at different times, their purposes were much the same: they were called by God to bring the people of Israel back to fidelity to the covenant with God.
Peppered in their writings are vague and sometimes not-so-vague references to the Messiah who will come and gather the tribes of Israel back to relationship with God. Isaiah especially raises a standard of hope when he writes an oracle-poem called “The Servant of the Lord.”
The poem is about the enigmatic servant whom God formed in the womb. This servant will gather in the tribes of Jacob and restore the survivors of Israel. Through this servant, salvation will reach to the ends of the earth. Looking back through the lens of today, we can identify this servant as Christ, the Messiah. Reading the prophets can only help us to realize that they were catching glimpses of what was promised by God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to us. In a sense, they were seeing through a glass darkly, but now, you and I can say we have come to know who this servant is. He is Christ the Lord.
But do we really know the Lord? When my husband and I were courting years ago, he was a law student in Madison and I was an undergraduate at Alverno College in Milwaukee. We wrote letters to each other almost daily since long distance calls were out-of-this-world expensive. It was through these letters that we came to know each other, what we were doing, what our dreams were, our goals. We came to discover what made us laugh and what made us mad. When we could see each other on a weekend date, we were able to converse about our families, our faith, our studies and our futures. Over time, as we came to know each other, our love grew. Courtship offers that wonderful opportunity to come to really know, on so many different levels, the person we are attracted to.
Today’s Gospel is John the Baptist’s testimony to Jesus. When he sees Jesus coming toward him, John recognizes him as the Lamb of God who would deal with all the sin, both universal and personal. But note how John says twice: “I did not know him … but …” Now if John and Jesus were kin and their mothers were united by a sacred bond through their children, they most likely knew each other. John knew Jesus in a familial relationship. But what John is saying here is that he did not know Jesus intimately as the Messiah until this encounter with Jesus, whom John describes as the Lamb of God.
Once I lived in Louisiana, the heart of the Bible belt. There were people who would ask me if I knew the Lord as my personal Lord and Savior. Through my Catholic eyes, I found that coming to know the Lord is a lifetime process. As a child, I started out memorizing catechetical questions about faith and its origins. At home, I would rattle off basic answers to questions from the catechism like “Who is God? Why did God make us?” Later in life, I came to know Christ on a deeper level through study, prayer and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Now older, the encounter with Christ in Eucharist and in quiet prayer pave a path for deeper knowing.
So, when John says: “I did not know him,” he means he did not know him as Messiah, the Anointed One. Like all of us, John’s recognition came over time. Do you remember when pregnant Mary visited pregnant Elizabeth and the child (John) leapt in her womb upon Mary’s arrival? What caused that quickening in Elizabeth’s womb? The Holy Spirit caused John to leap because, at some nascent level in that prenatal world, God was already pointing to the fulfillment of all the ancient prophets.
Now, the adult John the Baptist who knows full well his mission, realizes that the Holy Spirit rests upon Jesus, and this time John really sees him, really understands him, really knows him. This is the Christ. This is the one whom Isaiah said would become a light to the nations so that salvation may reach the ends of the earth.
John came into the world to baptize with water so that Jesus might be made known to all of Israel and to us. It was to John that God committed the custody of all prophets. Like John, when Jesus comes toward us, perhaps we will scratch our heads and squint while looking into his beautiful and radiant face. Then we will say: “I did not know you … but now I do.”