Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. I’ve written quite a bit about this feast. (Read Deacon-structing Jesus’ Baptism, Part 1
and Part 2
Today we begin Ordinary Time, but next Sunday we continue with John the Baptist.
“I did not know him,” he says.
Imagine, John the Baptist, the relative of Jesus, his cousin, says that he didn’t know him! I suppose it’s possible that he really didn’t know him – they were distant cousins. But a different translation (that I prefer) says, “I didn’t recognize him.” We can think instead that they’ve known each other all their lives, but John did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. It’s like your little niece who you remember to be so shy and quiet and next thing you know she’s all grown up and she’s class valedictorian and goes to law school, and now she’s running for prime minister: “Wow! I didn’t know her. No idea!”
There are two things I want to explore with you about today: Do you know Jesus? We know a lot about Jesus, but do you know Him like you know your best friend or your spouse? And if not, what has to happen in your life so that you can know him?
For all of us, something has to happen so that we can, first, recognize him and then know him.
The first reading for next Sunday (Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A) is from Isaiah 49:3, 5-6. We know that Isaiah had a vision of God and then an angel touched his mouth with a hot, burning coal (Isaiah 6:6-13). Isaiah responded, “Here I am, Lord, send me.”
Clearly, Isaiah recognized God.
In the reading for next Sunday, Isaiah is writing about an obscure character whom he refers to as the “servant”. Isaiah speaks about this character a lot. We refer to these passages from Isaiah as the “Servant Songs/Poems” or “Songs of the Suffering Servant” (see Isaiah 42:1–4; Isaiah 49:1–6; Isaiah 50:4–7; and Isaiah 52:13–53:12).
No one really knows who Isaiah was writing about. About himself? About the People of Israel? The Church, of course, interprets this “suffering servant” as the Messiah, Jesus Christ. But see – for so many years, no one knew who this suffering servant was. We didn’t recognize him. But this very “servant”, he knows God so intimately that he can say that God's strength is his strength (49:5) and that God’s light radiates through him (49:6).
Do you know God so well that you can say that God’s strength is your strength?
In the second reading next Sunday (1 Corinthians 1:1-3) we also hear about another obscure figure: Sosthenes. St. Paul writes that this letter is sent from him and from “our brother Sosthenes”
. The name Sosthenes appears twice in the New Testament: once in this introduction to the 1st letter to the Corinthians, and the other time in chapter 18 of the Book of Acts. According to Acts, Sosthenes was the leader of the synagogue in Corinth when Paul went to preach there. The previous leader of the synagogue had converted, and Paul was preaching to the Gentiles (he was in Corinth for over a year). One day there was a mob of Jews, and they grabbed Paul and took him to the Roman Governor Gallio. But Gallio said that this was not a government matter but a private religious matter, so he set Paul free. The mob in anger then turns to Sosthenes, the new Jewish leader, and they beat him up. If we assume it’s the same Sosthenes mentioned in 1 Corinthians, and it’s pretty likely, then we see that at first Sosthenes was against Paul, and then later on Paul refers to him as “our brother”.
Something changed. Maybe it’s because he got beaten up. Or maybe we can imagine Paul reaching out to him after he was beaten up. Something changed and he recognized Jesus Christ.
Scripture tells us that God knows you from your mother’s womb (Isaiah 49:5). He knows you. He wants to have an intimate relationship with you. What has to happen to you so that you can recognize him and so you can know him? Does an angel have to come and touch your mouth with a burning coal? Do you have to get beaten up? Do you have to see the Holy Spirit descend like a dove?
We can sit around and go about our busy lives, working, eating, making money, and waiting for God to make the first move, or we can begin to reach out to Him, begin opening our hearts to Him so He can reveal Himself to us.
Let me remind you of all the things we should be doing so that we can be ready to recognize Him so that we can know Him:
- Prayer: Are you praying every day? You should be spending between 30 minutes to an hour every day in prayer – in the car, in your room, in 5-minute increments… doesn’t matter, as long as you set space and time aside to do this. Do you only say prayers that you’ve memorized or do you speak your heart? Do you spend time listening in quiet? Christ is present when we call upon His name.
- Scripture: Part of our prayer should include time reading or listening to Scripture. Listening to the readings at Mass once a week is not enough. We need a little bit of Scripture every day: read it, study it, pray with it. Christ is present in His Word.
- Sacraments: Christ is made present to us in a special way in the Sacraments, especially in the Sacrament of the Eucharist and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You can receive those Sacraments every day. They’re free. Go to daily Mass if you can; go to Eucharistic Adoration. Pop in for 5 minutes on your way home from work or on your way to work – stay for 10 minutes. Come to Mass 10 minutes earlier and sit there quietly. When we live our Sacraments, Christ is made present.
- Parish/Church life: We are a community of believers. We help each other on our way to Heaven. Come to Mass and stay a bit afterward. Talk to someone. Come to parish events. Go to events at other Christian communities. Christ is present when people gather in His name.
- Service/charity: Christ is present in the poor, the marginalized, the discarded, the homeless. Make a point of reaching out to that homeless person you see every morning on your way to work, reach out to the annoying person at work or at school. Pray for them, yes, but also reach out to them.
Lastly, don’t beat yourself up if you struggle with this. If you haven’t recognized Him or you haven’t had a deep and meaningful personal encounter with Christ, remember that John the Baptist didn’t recognize Jesus at first. Later on he wasn’t sure if Jesus was the Messiah (Luke 7:20). You’re in good company.
God is already in your life.
Look for him. He’s here. Look around. Open your heart. Reach out to Him. Let Him know you too so that you, too, can proclaim Him to others and say, “There is the Lamb of God!”
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: firstname.lastname@example.org