On the Gospel of John 1:29-34
2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord and read the account of this baptism from Matthew’s Gospel. This Sunday, we have a second look at the same scene, this time benefitting from the clear sight of John the “eagle-eyed evangelist”. And sight is central to this Gospel passage: the first and last sentences are both about seeing. Rather than action, this passage is about sight followed by testimony.
We sometimes speak as if the Christian life is all about action: doing good deeds, spreading the word, saying prayers. This Sunday’s gospel passage is a reminder of another dimension of the Christian life: contemplation. In contemplation, we rest in the presence of God, simply looking at Christ with a steady gaze, and letting him look back at us. This contemplation can happen at Mass, or during quiet prayer, or Eucharistic adoration. It can also happen when we’re in nature, where we see the hand of God in creation (‘I see his blood upon the rose, and in the stars the glory of his eyes’). It can even happen unexpectedly or in unusual situations.
When our gospel passage opens, John is presumably busy baptising the crowds who came for his ‘baptism with water’. But when he sees Jesus coming, he does not see him with ordinary sight but, with the eyes of faith, sees something of greater significance: ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!’ This is a moment of epiphany (manifestation), and the Baptist sees divine things clearly. We sometimes experience these epiphany moments in prayer: we can have a profound sense of God’s presence and an equally profound sense that ‘all is well’. At these moments it is not hard to be a believer and a disciple. These are moments when we can see clearly.
Of course, these epiphanies are rare, and don’t often last long. John the Baptist knew this experience too. Even after recognising the ‘Lamb of God’, he still has trouble believing that Jesus is the Messiah. When he is imprisoned he sends his disciples to ask Jesus a blunt question: ‘Are you the Messiah’ (Luke 7:18-20). Similarly with us, we may have been granted a glimpse of God’s glory, but later we are inclined to question and doubt: Did I manufacture those emotions? Did my mood affect my judgment? Was it a moment of escape from reality?
This Sunday’s Gospel doesn’t give easy answers to these questions, but instead it lays down a challenge. It shows us a figure who, after being granted sight went on to testify: ‘I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One’. When we are granted the gift of contemplation, when we can see divine things clearly, are we willing to testify to what we have seen? When we return to the semi-darkness of ordinary experience, are we willing to point to a dim light and say: ‘Look, the Lamb of God’?
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”