At coming to the end of the Christmas Season, at least for most of us, we enter ordinary time reflecting on a gospel with an unusual feature: one in which Jesus doesn’t speak a word. And yet his silence allows him to be the center of John the Baptist’s monologue. So why is this gospel, one with which Catholics should be well familiar given it is in the mass, selected as the introduction for the year?
I think it may have more to do with the context of the story. Jesus returns from the desert and John, with his disciples, see Jesus. This begins the gospel. Upon John pointing the way to Jesus (I like to think of it as a “Hey, there he is!” moment) some of his disciples start following him, and rightly so: John is the one who, of Jesus, cries out in the wilderness, is the one unfit to untie his shoes, the one for whom he must decrease.
Within this context one begins to see the meaning of the gospel. John points the way to Jesus, a way we too must follow. For the start of the year and the season of ordinary time – which, by the way, does not mean ordinary as in plain but ordinary as in ordered or sequential – it is fitting then that the first gospel directs us to Jesus, the Chosen One of God.
Insofar as the Mass is concerned, it may seem strange that these words of John’s direction are placed where they are. If the words, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” are inviting us to be aware of the presence of Jesus, shouldn’t they be earlier perhaps at the start of the Mass or at least before the consecration? Valid arguments, since Jesus is present earlier than when these words are said. So why are they placed there?
I believe – and though I have studied the Mass and indeed given presentations on it, it is no more than a belief, or at best a lucky shot – I believe that while the real presence of Jesus becomes manifest at the point of consecration, just as Jesus was present prior to these words of John, it is not until after Jesus is recognized that others begin to follow. Likewise, it is soon after our public recognition of Jesus in repeating these same words of John that we too begin to follow Jesus, quite physically and publicly, in the reception of the Blessed Sacrament.
I am told there are still disciples of John the Baptist in existence today in a remote part of somewhere (sorry the details are sketchy, some years have since past when I heard that). In spirit at least, I think there are more. These followers of John have not taken heed of his word, have not followed his direction. There are some people today (and perhaps more than some) who have not followed John to Jesus. They may live a worthy life and while they may have come close to Jesus, they have not begun to follow him. They continue to follow a false Chosen One.
In living a life faithful to the gospel, do we point the way to Jesus like John did? Are we continuing to follow a “John” like replacement? Can we let go of the comfort of what we know and like the disciples of John reach out to Jesus and follow him in a radical life? Do we point the way to Jesus in the ordered life?
Let the silence of Jesus be at peace within you. Follow the promptings of his Spirit, in whichever form they take for you – for I’m fairly sure they will not be manifested in the same way as it was for John! – and let your faithfulness to these promptings draw you closer to Christ, and in turn direct others to him on whom the Spirit rests.