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This year of readings will overall have a greater focus on the Gospel of Matthew, but today we hear from John’s Gospel about the person and role of John the Baptist. In this Gospel, we hear John the Baptist stressing the divinity of Christ Jesus, his cousin, who he refers to as one “I did not know” – using that word “know” in a different sense from what we normally mean. Earlier in John’s prologue which is read on the Mass during Christmas Day, it speaks of the Word made flesh using these words in verse ten: He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. This sense that God is something totally other, something the world cannot control or get a full grasp on, is what John is referring to. Obviously they were cousins, they knew each other, even though John the Baptist might not have seen Jesus for many years if we are right in thinking he lived by the Jordan river with the Essene community and eventually lived as a sort of hermit-monk before his preaching of repentance.
John’s testimony is important. He had a strong following of people. They wanted him to be the Messiah. He could have easily let all that go to his head. However, he was faithful to his vocation, to what God had revealed to him: ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God. This is a beautiful witness. BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD. This phrase is packed full of meaning for the Jewish people, who twice a day offered sacrifice of a lamb in the temple, and every year at Passover the same offering was required of every single family. In fact, they might not have ever understood it at the time. Why would God need a lamb? What does he have to offer sacrifice for? And why would God offer sacrifice to Himself?
John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him. Indeed this is how it is with all of us. Jesus comes towards us and seeks us out. As He pursues us, John the Baptist tells us: This is the Lamb of God.
To his disciples who have followed his message of repentance, John the Baptist now points the way forward and offers the possibility of learning more about Jesus. They must discover Him, must ponder the mystery of who this Lamb of God is. They must follow him. “He must increase; I must decrease.”
We find ourselves in two places in today’s Gospel. First, we are like John’s disciples. We must submit ourselves to following Jesus wherever He goes, and this begins with confession of our sins – the Lamb of God is here to take away the sins of the world.
But secondly, we see ourselves in John the Baptist. The role of all the baptized is to point to Christ Jesus, to point the way forward for others toward the one who must increase in their lives, the one who can take away their sins. They must follow him.
Let us pray for the grace to be followers of Jesus, but also to never be only followers. Let us pray to be messengers who prepare others to draw close to Christ, who is always seeking them. May our heart burn with the heart of the lord Jesus, the Lamb of God, who seeks to save what was lost.