What a difference a week can make. Even when it comes to Scripture. If today’s Gospel account sounds familiar, it’s because it is. It is exactly the same Gospel account as last week’s: the story of the Baptism of the Lord. The only difference, however, (and it’s a significant difference) is that last week’s account is from the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 3) and today’s story is from the Gospel of John (chapter 1).
Matthew’s account is fairly straightforward. Neither the narrator nor any of the characters get in front of the camera or block our view of the Baptism of Jesus by his cousin John.We hear the words of Jesus. We hear the words of John the Baptist. We hear the words of God the Father, together with his Son Jesus and in the Presence of the Holy Spirit. It’s all there, right in front of us, with all its drama and immediacy.
But John’s Gospel gives us a very different twist. John does all the talking. All the talking. He is off-camera. It’s almost as if he were being interviewed alone, sitting calmly and comfortably in someone’s home or garden. (Or more likely in his case, squatted in a dank prison cell awaiting his execution). Nevertheless, John is reflecting on an experience of Jesus.
What is going through John’s mind and heart as He sees Jesus coming toward him? First of all, they were not strangers. We know from elsewhere in Scripture that John and Jesus have been intimately connected their entire lives: They were cousins. Born just six months apart. Their mothers were very close-- so close that Mary, pregnant herself with Jesus, travelled a great distance to see Elizabeth, the mother of John, and to stay with her during her confinement. And we know that both mothers intuitively knew that there was something very special about these births. Especially the birth of Jesus. And that John even leapt in his mother’s womb when the two women met.
That’s the back story. Or only a part of it. They were family, blood relatives, the same age. They had to have grown up together. Visited each other, seen each other at family weddings and funerals. Played together as kids. So. Why, then, does John not say (or think): Oh. Here is my cousin, my kinsman, Jesus! What brought him here to the Jordan today? Is he coming to be baptized as well? Well, I’ll be…. No. John says (and thinks and feels): It’s Him. He is the One. I’ve always known there was something special, something different about him. And I’ve been watching him carefully all these years. It’s Him. The One who has existed before all time. The Promised One. The One I have been told about in answer to my prayers. The One I have been instructed to watch out for. It’s Him! It’s the Messiah!
I used to know him as just my cousin. But now I see Him for who He really is. He is the Lord. So I called him the Lamb of God. That was the first thing to come to my mind. And, actually, it fits him. Perfectly. Now that I think of it. After all, lambs are sacrificed daily in Temple worship. But there is only One Lamb—for whom we have been waiting—to fulfill and complete all of our symbolic rituals. It was the lamb our ancestors smeared on their door lintels at Passover which secured our liberation from the slavery of Egypt. And, now here is God’s very own Lamb, who will one day be sacrificed for our account.
What does this all have to do with you and me? When it comes to faith: Believing is seeing. And not the other way around. John saw Jesus. A lot. Throughout his live, presumably. But it was only gradually, over time, that John began to believe Jesus. And to believe in Jesus. And that is Good News—Great News, even—for you and for me.
Believing is a process: day by day (sometimes even moment by moment) over time by which we come to see the presence of Jesus more clearly in our lives and in our world. And in ourselves as well. It takes time and energy and commitment and discipline to cultivate this awareness and receptivity.
Belief grows through prayer. Through study. And reflection/ meditation. It grows, gets tested (and either strengthened or weakened) through our interactions and relationships with other people on a daily basis.
It is renewed, refreshed, and regenerated through community. And for us, in our Catholic Christian tradition, through the life of the sacred moments—the sacraments we share. Most especially and beautifully through the Word and Eucharist we share.
We can lose our faith, watch our beliefs shatter and crumble.
Or we can hang on, hang in, lean into our beliefs in good weather and in bad. Often until the storms pass. Until, like John, we gradually begin to see. Jesus is the Lamb of God. And He does take away the sins of the world.
Happy are we who are called to the supper of the Lord…. When it comes to faith, believing is seeing.//