Every family seems to comprise an individual or two who love to brag about certain relations, be they sons or daughters, nieces or nephews. Oddly, they rarely praise the individual in person, only to other relatives. They weary us with the list of this one or that one’s virtues and accomplishments and we wonder, “how could anyone be so wonderful?” We begin to look at the objects of these effusive accolades with suspicion, discomfort at best, resentment at worst. The result: now there are two people we try to avoid: Uncle Charlie, Aunt Petunia AND poor cousin Mickey.
Who are these patriarchs, matriarchs trying to impress? Don’t they know goodness doesn’t lie in any individual alone, but that all is grace, and all good abilities and accomplishments are God’s gifts? No one is greater in God’s eyes, all belong, all are invited to salvation in which all good works are providential for God’s purposes, far greater than our own satisfaction or advancement.
That’s what makes John the Baptist’s words about Jesus so different. This isn’t bragging. This is acknowledging God is with us, God’s plan for humanity is in evidence. Prior to this moment, John simply knew Jesus as his cousin. Yes, he had heard of the prophecies, no doubt, but Remember there were many different interpretations of who and what MESSIAH would be. “I did not know him” refers not to John’s human knowledge but rather recognition and understanding of Jesus’ true role of redemption, Jesus’ salvific purpose. As John sees the Dove, the Spirit descend upon Jesus, he is inspired to see Jesus as God reveals Him, as God intended John and all of us to see.
As we return to the Church’s Season of “Ordinary Time,” we do well to see what John saw, to recognize the true Jesus, His true purpose; how the confirmation of eternal life in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection saves us from harming ourselves and others.
Christmas Season may be over, and Lent and Easter are not quite near, but in our everyday life we must carry the images of Christmas and Holy Week forever in our hearts. We must not ever stop being nurtured by the scene of Infant Jesus in the manger, surrounded by humble parents, poor shepherd and lowly animals. The symbols of the Nativity, the Crèche scene, must forever compel us not only to be in awe of Jesus, the Incarnation but suffer us to be in awe of every infant, every child, regardless of his or her social status or inheritance. Let the manger maintain in us reverence for all life, be it animal, vegetable or mineral, for all witness to God’s immeasurable Wisdom that divined the interconnectedness of all people and all things.
Of course, it’s easy to love every infant –well, for most people, it is. We do have a number of curmudgeons among us who value peace and contemplative silence above all things at home, at church, at supermarkets and elsewhere, forgetting that they once, too, screamed during the offertory, mother’s favorite tv program or giggled at the teacher trying so hard to achieve some sense of decorum. Still, our love and gratitude for children, must easily be extended to the beauty of the earth, the majesty of the animals domestic and wild, the necessity of trees—their gift of oxygen, the waterways—especially fresh water to drink, the honeybees pollinating the fruits we eat and everything else that contributes to our being. After all, all played their part in bringing humanity into being, furnishing the elements on their way to their consummation and fulfilment in Christ Jesus, the WORD INCARNATED that initiated creation and continues to sustain it and all of us unto eternity.
Gratitude for Jesus is Gratitude for all, and thankfulness is the best way to get through this day and any day. Yet, life also is suffering and that’s why we must keep the Cross and Easter balanced with our Christmas inspirations.
Seeing Jesus on the Cross we must not only be reminded that He died for us, be convinced of His love for us, but to see how we individually and collectively as a society perpetuate suffering – suffering of the innocent as He was—and by extension, the weak, the lonely and vulnerable (there’s that baby in a manger again) but all suffering– be it among the good or the wicked, for as Jesus said in Luke’s Gospel, “God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked,” never causing evil but alleviating it for all who turn to him and cooperate with His grace. Yes, the crucifix does expose the sins of the world but remember, exposed in order to forgive them –mercy being the only antidote to sin, the only way life is rejuvenated, resurrected, redeemed, the only way earthly life continues toward eternal life. As we explored last week, Jesus insisted John baptize him, saying, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness” —revealing righteousness as the Mercy of God toward all, not just an elect few.
Do we recognize all this in Jesus as John the Baptist did on that holy day? Do we intend through meditation and prayer and thanksgiving and participation in the Sacraments to see every day as holy, every person, every aspect of God’s good earth holy and precious and important? When we do, we join with John the Baptist in recognizing Christ With US and witnessing to the truth that Jesus as the Son of God makes a difference for us in how we think, how we see, how we live, what we eat and how we eat it on a daily basis, not just particular times of the year. We need to see more than bread and wine when we come to the table this morning. That’s for sure! Welcome back to “Ordinary Time.”