- On January 20, 2020
The reason why I came baptizing with water was that He might be made known. In today’s gospel, we hear St. John the Baptist state his mission – to make Jesus known. It is of course the mission of every Christian, to make Jesus known, and for good reason. When people know Jesus, they obtain a good and faithful friend, the best friend we could ever have on Earth. When people know Jesus, they open themselves up to the fullness of life, which He came to bring humanity. As we heard today, John saw the Spirit came down like a dove from heaven and remain upon Jesus. Jesus imparts to the people who know Him that same Spirit, which yields in the person love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. To live with such fruits is far better than to not have them. To know Jesus is also to open oneself to God’s wisdom, increasingly to recognize what is true, to be delivered from deception, and to be able to make right decisions in life. And ultimately, as St. Peter says in the Acts of the Apostles, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” So, having people know Jesus is important.
But then, what does it mean to know Jesus? Here we must draw a distinction between knowing about someone, and knowing them personally. Knowing about Jesus – the details of his birth, his life, and his death, the reasons He came, the work he accomplished in the economy of salvation, and the graces He imparts, knowing about Jesus is a very good thing. But it is not enough by itself. There is even the warning in Scriptures about those who know about Jesus, but their hearts are not aligned with Jesus. To them, Jesus says precisely, “I never knew you”. Rather, when the Scriptures speak of knowing, they mean more than just knowing about someone. To know something or someone is to have intimate personal knowledge of them. A couple of examples, [from Glen in the King’s English] In the Garden of Eden, “Adam and Eve were tempted to “know” good and evil. This was more than an addition of information. It was a taking of good and evil to themselves, to possess those terms.” In the Book of the Prophet Amos, God is speaking to Israel and says, “You only have I known among all the families of the earth.” Does God here mean that He’s unaware of other nations? Of course not. But He knows Israel. He is in deep fellowship with His special people.
The goal then is to know Jesus as a Person. To know Him is to enter into a relationship with Him and to have a heart commitment in that relationship. To know Jesus is to allow the facts about Jesus to lead into a real, personal encounter that is ongoing. The question is not “do we hold orthodox ideas about Him? But personally, relationally, from the heart, do we know Jesus in the biblical sense?”
This certainly seems like a pretty straightforward idea: we are to know Jesus and to make Jesus known. But one of the challenges to this effort is highlighted precisely in today’s gospel. St. John the Baptist says that he came to make Jesus known, but twice today, John states concerning Jesus – “I did not know him”. What a fascinating situation that is. John is trying to make Jesus known, while claiming to not know Jesus well himself. I say “well”, because it seems likely that John knew Jesus to some extent. They were cousins after all. The two families were at least somewhat close. Mary the mother of Jesus was present for John’s birth.
But we can always know Jesus better. The relationship with Jesus can go infinitely deeper and more intimate. And in humility then, a saint could well say that their knowledge of Jesus, compared to what is infinitely possible, is relatively non-existent. As if to say: I don’t really know Jesus well yet. There is so much more to discover and to experience in our relationship. I am not qualified to do this. Here I am, unworthy to unfasten the strap of his sandal, in my own opinion barely knowing him, and yet commissioned by God, to point the way to Jesus, to identify him for others, so that they might come to know him. And even though I am unqualified for the task, I will do it, because God asks it of me.
So, remarkably it seems, as Christians we are to be about this mission of making Jesus known, even if we feel like we do not know him ourselves. God does not wait for someone to be perfect before he sends them in ministry. Rather, it will be in the very act of making Jesus known, that we will come to know Jesus more. The fact that we recognize our deficiencies, our lack of knowledge of Jesus, can certainly be unsettling in the effort to make Jesus known to others. But it seems we are to trust that God will be present in the effort, and that God will supply whatever is missing. For our part, we are to do what He asks of us.
So, we might ask ourselves how are we supposed to make Jesus known in our current life? The answer to this question is very particular to each person. For John the Baptist making Jesus known was through administering a baptism of repentance to the people who came out to listen to him in the wilderness. But for each of us, there will be people we encounter, people whom God will have providentially brought to us or sent to us, varying according to our state of life and our occupation. This openness to making Jesus known is a daily consideration, as each day has its own particular encounters. As Christians, we are to strive to be open to the idea of making Jesus known to others, and to expect that such opportunities will arise. In this light, it seems that the attitude to avoid is that of closing our minds and hearts to the possibility, out of uncomfortableness, unworthiness, or any other reason.
In this Eucharist, we pray for the grace and inspiration to know Jesus better, and to help make Jesus known to others. Amen
Fr. Elias Correa-Torres, O.S.B.