The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, 'After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.' I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water." And John bore witness, saying, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God."
- John 1:29-34
In Monday's reading, John the Evangelist gives us the testimony of John the Baptist. When the leadership sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ." And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" "No." Then they said to him, "Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?" He said: "I am 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Make straight the way of the LORD,"' as the prophet Isaiah said." Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees. And they asked him, saying, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?" John answered them, saying, "I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose." These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him . . . My study bible points out that in this beginning to John's gospel (after its Prologue), we are given four days in the ministry of John the Baptist and then to Jesus calling the first Apostles. Today, we are given the witness of the Baptist. The "four successive days" give us a kind of seamless "handing off" of ministry, from the prophetic to the revelation of the Incarnate Christ. The first day was yesterday's reading (above), in which John witnesses in the presence of the leadership. The second day is today's reading, in which John the Baptist is speaking to his own disciples.
"Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, 'After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.' I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water." My study bible says, "John's naming Jesus publicly as the Lamb of God recalls Isaiah's 'Servant of God' who dies for the transgressions of His people (Is. 53:4-12). Christ, the true Paschal Lamb, offers Himself for our deliverance from darkness and death (1 Pet. 1:18-19). This is a kind of "revelation" by John to his disciples; it is his witness to them about Christ. Jesus is the awaited One, the One for whom John has been preparing Israel, the people of God. Jesus is the reason for which John has been baptizing a baptism of repentance, of change of mind and preparation for that which was to be revealed.
And John bore witness, saying, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God." And here is John's witness to true revelation, to the Theophany present in Jesus' baptism. John bears witness to his own enlightenment, to that which was revealed to him as he baptized Jesus (which the other Gospels present to us in a more "historical" form). Here, John tells us of his own experience, and the revelation of and in the presence of "He who sent me to baptize with water." My study bible tells us of this passage that "the Spirit remained upon Him [Jesus] because Christ possesses the Holy Spirit in His fullness." "Christ" or "Messiah" means "the Anointed One." The Spirit descending upon Him is an image of anointing, a fullness that is present in Him and with Him.
There are two elements in today's reading that I find notable. The first is the hint, right from the beginning of the Gospel of John, of suffering that will come to Jesus (whom the Baptist calls "Lamb of God.") By extension, we can experience, in some sense, this witness in the lives of the Apostles of what is to come as well. By the time John's gospel was written, persecution was fierce for the Church, and so we are aware of this background and understanding in His disciples from the very beginning. While suffering is present, yet we rejoice in the Good News, the great revelation of the Gift to the world, the awaited One, the Anointed One. And the second thing we notice is the "interiority" (if I may use so modern a word) of this passage. It is the witness, the testimony, of the Baptist. What we are told, first of all, is a conversation, a reporting of things said to John's disciples, not to the public who comes to be baptized. John reveals that he knew He was coming, but did not know who He was, a private and intimate detail -- and this is why he was baptizing, because he knew that He was coming and would be revealed. So we are given John's prophetic knowledge, his understanding as the greatest prophet in the lineage of the Old Testament prophets. And then John teaches to his disciples what was revealed to him: "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him." And then for extra emphasis, the understanding is repeated: "I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God." We are given the interior workings of John's mind in testimony to his disciples; we are given revelation -- something revealed to him, the descent of the Spirit and the message of the One who sent him to baptize with water. The powerful message here (aside from Theophany or revelation of God!) is that this powerful reality comes to us from the testimony of one man. A revered figure like John the Baptist has this sort of power because the One who sent him infuses and shares His power with human beings, with the world. A revelation happens only through the power and grace of God, sharing through grace God's energies with the world, working with us and among us. So what the Baptist reveals to his disciples and by extension to us through John's gospel is God among us, God at work in the world. Jesus has given us the great parable of the mustard seed, to which He likened the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us consider this testimony of one man to his disciples, a revelation that happened not in a spectacular sense of an immediate illumination to millions, a kind of "proof" for the world, but rather the testimony of one man, John the Baptist. It is a revelation not only of Trinity, and of the Lamb of God in our midst, but also a revelation to us of the power in that mustard seed, in one extraordinary holy man, in the power of the witness of John the Evangelist as well, who began as a disciple of the Baptist. Let us remember the power of the mustard seed, let us look at the power that is revealed not to millions in one fell swoop, but rather through those who have led holy lives dedicated to God and to doing what God has called them to do. We can't predict the results and outcome of such lives. The Gospel goes everywhere, 2,000 years later, to enlighten and to reveal to the countless multitude who will benefit in faith from the testimony of this man and the one who has written down these words in the Gospel. Let us remember, even in the midst of the suffering of this world, the ways that God's power works, and that God is with us in the presence of the Lamb. Let us remember the power of faith and God's grace.