Be made known

This coming Sunday is the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time. In yesterday’s post we considered the expression “Lamb of God.” In today’s post we look at the verses that speak to John the Baptist as witness. One of the distinct features of the Fourth Gospel is the Evangelists’ use of martyreo (“bear witness”). The verb occurs once in Matthew, once in Luke, none in Mark, and 31 times in John including the five use in the first chapter (vv. 7, 8, 15, 32, 34). This should not be surprising as we were already told in the Prologue that “He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” (1:7)

Our text is centered on John giving testimony to the reader about Jesus with five images.

  • Here is the Lamb of God
  • who is taking away the sin of the world. (1:29)
  • The one who existed before John (1:30-31)
  • The one on whom the Spirit descends and rests (1:32-33)
  • “This is the Son of God.” (1:34)

The first two images were covered in yesterday’s post as John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the “lamb of God.” Given the expression was not a common phrase, we might assume that this identification of Jesus as the “lamb of God” was a revelation of the Spirit. Which in itself raises the question: what did John know by normal human means? One basic question is whether he knew Jesus at all – something not beyond asking as the Baptist says in v.31 “I did not know him…”

One might offer that John means he did know Jesus was the one coming as Messiah but knew him as a relative. Or can we take it literally, that John did know Jesus? There is no trace of the Lucan tradition of the nativity stories including the Visitation when John lept in his mother’s womb when Mary drew near. John was raised in the environs of Jerusalem while Jesus was raised in the north of Galilee. It is possible that John had not met his own “cousin.”

In any case, from wherever the knowledge, John understands that Jesus “ranks ahead” of him – because he existed before me.  We know that John the Baptist is in fact older than Jesus but the testimony is that he enlisted before me. This is certainly consistent with the Prologue of John. The expression “ranks ahead of me” points back to v.27 (the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.) To untie the strap of a sandal (before foot washing) was the duty of the lowest slave in the house. A rabbi noted that “Every service which a slave performs for his master a disciple will perform for his teacher, except to untie his sandal-strap.’” (citation from Brown)

Image credit: The preaching of St. John the Baptist. Chromolithograph by L. Gruner after C. Mariannecci after D. Ghirlandaio, 1490,  Public Domain

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