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Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A-2011

What are humans that you are mindful of them? (Ps. 8:4—NAB)

Immediately preceding the account that makes up today’s Gospel reading is the account about John the Baptist being made the object of visitation and investigation by delegates of official Judaism (Jn. 1:19-28). Not that the priests and Levites personally cared one way or the other; they were primarily about doing their job and getting answers from John to take back to the leaders in Jerusalem who were perhaps too busy, too important, or did not care enough to be inconvenienced and go to Bethany across the Jordan themselves. But the Pharisees among the delegates went further than the priests and Levites and questioned the Baptist, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet?” The question was an expression of their conviction that they, as guardians of religious orthodoxy, knew God’s ways and had the authority to evaluate and pass judgment on religious claims in accordance with prescribed formulations or list of questions [1].

The guardians of religious orthodoxy who thought they were right were wrong actually, the Gospel account makes us understand. They were absolutely certain of their understanding and knowledge of God’s word and ways. Yet by brushing aside the Baptist’s self-identification in terms of Is. 40:3, they appeared to be clueless on this Scripture passage. And they did not recognize one among them, the one coming after John. The representatives of official and orthodox Judaism were mistaken, notwithstanding their conviction that they knew. Though not knowing, they did not admit to ignorance.

John the Baptist, on the other hand, did not know and he admitted it. He was humble to admit not knowing and not to pretend to know, and so he was guided rightly by God and was taught the way (cf. Ps. 25:9). Blessed in his poverty, in his hunger and thirst for righteousness, John recognized the arrival of the kingdom of heaven in the person of Jesus and was satisfied. Blessed too in his simplicity and purity of heart, he saw the Spirit come down upon Jesus like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. The Baptist thus came to know the one who was coming after him and ranked ahead of him because he existed before him. He came to know as well his reason for being and acting. He humbly and unambiguously acknowledged that his existence and ministry were solely about referring to whom he saw and knew—to testifying to the Son of God, to pointing out the Lamb of God.

And Christians, needless to say, are expected to turn to John the Baptist, not to the representatives of official Judaism, to see true Christian discipleship modeled. It goes without saying that Christians are to accept their humanity—with its sinfulness, ignorance, uncertainty, suffering, misery, as well as its fundamental openness to God’s grace and peace and to his call to holiness by virtue of its goodness as part of his creation—and learn at the feet of the Master how to testify to his being the Son of God, ever imploring that they be drawn to him by the Father (cf. Jn. 6:44) and taking the Son as the “supreme rule” of renewal that guarantees change that, according to Blessed John Henry Newman whom Cardinal Valerian Gracias cited at the Vatican II, makes for their remaining their true selves [2]. As it is important to highlight Jesus’ humanity “because it is in the human Jesus that we meet God” [3], so also is it important to point out that “all of human life—especially encounters with the poor and the marginalized—provide the opportunity for encounter with God” [4]. Moreover, there is this reminder from Father Robert P. Maloney, C.M., who, making the point that even sinning provides an opening to the good, says:

Unfortunately, the dangers of Pharisaism and perfectionism have always
plagued the church. Every era has its inquisitors and its Pelagians.
There are always some who are too eager to expel sinners from the church,
who are not patient enough to let the weeds and the wheat grow
together until the harvest. But the “holy church” is also the “church
of sinners.” Paradoxically, the two groups help one another.
In fact they are not really two groups; each of us lives more or less
as a member of both. As John’s first letter puts it, we deceive
ourselves if we say that we are without sin. We are harshest
with others when we fail to recognize our own sinfulness;
we are gentlest when we know that we too have often fallen. [5]

That Pope John Paul II, then, posed for pictures with the founder of the Legion of Christ is obviously not an impediment to his beatification, although I sense an implicit admission of it being a mistake in the prohibition to display publicly photographs of the founder “alone or with the Holy Father” [6].

And, of course, a very important aspect of discipleship as embodied by John the Baptist is partaking of the supper of the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, learning obedience by suffering from God’s Suffering Servant himself at the foot of the cross (cf. Heb. 5:8; Ps. 119:66-68, 71).


NOTES:

[1] Cf. http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/John/Preparation-Made-Revelation (accessed January 14, 2011).
[2] Cf. Father William M. Slattery, C.M., “Gentlemen and Dear Brothers,” Part I, 45, at http://via.library.depaul.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1016&context=vhj (accessed January 14, 2011) and Part II, 87, 95, at http://via.library.depaul.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1017&context=vhj (accessed January 14, 2011).
[3] Cf. the review by Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., “He was one of us,” America (January 3, 2011) 24.
[4] Cf. http://www.ncronline.org/news/people/edward-schillebeeckx-herald-god-among-us (accessed January 14, 2011)
[5] “An Upside-Down Sign: The Church of Paradox,” America (November 22, 1997) 6-11.
[6] Cf. http://www.zenit.org/article-31450?l=english and http://www.zenit.org/article-31231?l=english (accessed January 14, 2011).