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The Lord said to me: You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory. Now the Lord has spoken who formed me as His servant from the womb, that Jacob may be brought back to Him and Israel gathered to Him; and I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord, and my God is now my strength! It is too little, the Lord says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the Earth.(P) The word of the Lord.
I have waited, waited for the Lord, and He stooped toward me and heard my cry. And He put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God. (R)
Sacrifice or offering you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me. Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not; then said I, "Behold I come". (R)
"In the written scroll it is prescribed for me: to do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart!" (R)
I announced your justice in the vast assembly; I did not restrain my lips, as you, O Lord, know. (R)
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.(P) The word of the Lord.
John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, "A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me. I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel."" John testified further, saying, "I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, "On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit", Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God".(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
In the prologue of his gospel, a part of which we read on Christmas day, John introduces Jesus to the world as the Word, who was God and was with God from the beginning and who became a human being to live among us and to show us God's ways and to bring us back to God, John (1:1-18). And then he continues with the testimony of John the Baptist regarding Jesus, John (1:19-28). He narrates that as John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing people in the Jordan River, the Jewish leaders sent emissaries to ask him if he was the Messiah and he replied that he was not.
In today's gospel text we have a further testimony of John the Baptist on Jesus' identity and mission. John writes that a day after the baptism of Jesus, as Jesus was passing by, John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." John the Baptist's declaration of Jesus as the "Lamb of God" may not shock us today because Christ as the Lamb of God is a title very familiar to us. Particularly throughout each Holy Mass, we hear this title "Lamb of God" many times. But surely it must have been controversial for John the Baptist to introduce Jesus in such a way to the Jews who had been slaughtering sacrificial lambs at the feast of Passover in the temple of Jerusalem to obtain forgiveness for their sins. However, here John the Baptist identified Jesus as the sacrificial Passover Lamb provided by God Himself and whose mission is to take away the sin of the world. "Sin" here refers to both the guilt of our many individual sins, 1 Peter (2:24), and the guilt of the inborn sin that we have inherited from Adam and Eve, Romans (5:18).
John the Baptist then recalled what he had said about Jesus at the time of his baptism. "A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me. I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel", John (1:30-31). The words "I did not know him", should not be taken literally to imply that John the Baptist did not know Jesus at all. Luke's account of Jesus' infancy indicates that John and Jesus were related, Luke (1:36-45). So John was not saying that he did not know Jesus as in the way that we do not know or recognize a person, but instead he was saying that he did not have confirmation that Jesus was the Messiah until He was divinely revealed. With this testimony, John the Baptist also reaffirmed the divinity of Jesus. That's to say, John the Baptist humbly acknowledged that even though he was older than Jesus in the flesh chronologically Jesus was eternal and existed before he was born. John, therefore, came baptizing in water so that Jesus as the Messiah would be revealed to Israel.
John the Baptist then said, "I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him", John (1:32). This occurred when Jesus was baptized by John. The apostle and writer, John, testifies to this event. Mark (1:10), Matthew (3:16) and Luke (3:22) also testify to this in their gospels. It was not an actual dove that came down on Jesus but the Spirit that looked like a dove descended on Him. Several Jewish writings use the dove as the image of the Spirit of God. But what does the term "the Spirit of God" mean? In the book of Isaiah the anointing of the Messiah with the gifts of the Spirit was prophesied: "The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord", Isaiah (11:2). The meaning here is, that the Messiah should be endowed with these eminent prophetic gifts and qualifications for his ministry by the Holy Spirit. However, it does not mean that Jesus did not have the Spirit before His baptism. The Spirit coming upon Jesus and the voice from heaven only affirmed that Jesus is truly the awaited Messiah and Savior of the world.
John the Baptist further testified, "I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, on whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit", John (1:33). John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. It was a symbolic act of repenting, or changing of oneself and believing in Jesus Christ. Moreover, John predicted that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit, which authenticates and complements the baptism of water. This was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and empowered them to bear witness to the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
Finally, the statement: "Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God" is the climax of John the Baptist's testimony, John (1:34). After having seen the descent of the Spirt upon Jesus and heard the voice of God the Father, John the Baptist was convinced that Jesus was the Son of God. Some manuscripts identify him as being "the Chosen One of God" instead of "the Son of God". This is probably a reference to the prophecy of Isaiah which says, "Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have sent the spirit upon Him, he will bring fair judgment to the nations", Isaiah (42:1).
What is the message for us?
Today's gospel text is not a parable which teaches us some moral or spiritual lessons. It is also not a direct teaching of Jesus like he said, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand", or "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you" and so on, Matthew (4:17) or Matthew (7:7). It is rather a testimony of one of the most important prophets who came not only to perform the baptism of repentance but also point the way to Christ. He came not only to preach repentance of sin but also to tell people about Jesus so that they might believe.
Friends, we may have already in words expressed our faith in Jesus Christ many times. However, often times, being unsure of the identity and mission of Jesus Christ, brings doubt. Today, therefore, we are called upon once again to truly believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, our Savior. Let us, daily, look to the suffering Savior, and pray in faith that we may be saved from our sin. At the same time, like John the Baptist, all of us are called to witness to Jesus. We, like him, must make Jesus Christ known to the world not primarily as a great miracle worker, nor a wonderful teacher but as God's only Son, who lived and gave his life on the cross as ransom for our sin.(P) Amen.
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