This image of the Baptism of the Lord in  St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, reflects the Gospel message for Jan. 15 in how John the Baptist prepares the people for Christ's future Passion and Death.
This image of the Baptism of the Lord in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, reflects the Gospel message for Jan. 15 in how John the Baptist prepares the people for Christ's future Passion and Death.
During the Advent Season, our Gospel Readings focused on John the Baptist and his announcing of the coming of the Messiah to inaugurate the Kingdom of God.

Now as we embark on our journey through Ordinary Time we again hear from John as he points specifically to the person of Jesus.

John’s Gospel has a slightly different chronological perspective than do the synoptics. For John there is a period, albeit short, when the Baptizer and Jesus are both preaching at the same time. As a result, the evangelist then emphasizes the transition from his ministry to Jesus. He does so by clearly pointing to Jesus as the Lamb of God: the one appointed by God.

As we approach the event in the Gospel passage, Jesus has yet to begin his public ministry. We presume, from the testimony of John, that Jesus had come to him to be baptized, though there is no specific account of his Baptism in John’s Gospel. The Baptizer testifies that he saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus like a dove, so it is a strong suggestion that there has been at least one prior encounter between the two. 

The Baptizer has a large number of followers. They came to John because they sought forgiveness for their sins, and desired to experience a conversion in their lives. He was preparing them for the coming of God’s Kingdom and the fulfillment of the promises to come. 

Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise. 

As the Baptizer experienced the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus, he knew full well what that meant. A prophet, whose likes had not been seen among the people in some 400 years, the Baptizer was himself enough of a curiosity. Whether or not has had any connection to the famous Essene community living at Qumran among other places in Judea and the surrounding wilderness is uncertain.

Clearly the Baptizer was deeply steeped in the traditions of Judaism and knew the Scriptures well. We can also presume that he eschewed his priestly role, he is the son, as we know, of the priest Zechariah, in favor of his austere and prophetic way of life. Born to elderly parents, the Baptizer was likely left on his own as an orphan at a relatively young age, therefore connecting himself to the religious movements emphasizing austerity, sacrifice and some extreme disciplinary practices. 

It is also clear that he was a popular figure. Even the tetrarch Herod Antipas was fascinated by his preaching, though a rash promise on Herod’s part will result in the untimely martyred death of the Baptizer, serving as a foreshadow of Jesus’s own paschal sacrifice. 

Everything to do with John the Baptizer points us to Jesus. 

Luke presents the Baptizer and Jesus as related through their mother’s lineage, though neither of the other Gospel’s carry that tradition. Some scholars argue that John is suggesting here that Jesus was himself a disciple of John’s, at least for a short time. 

The Baptizer, in announcing Jesus as the Messiah uses the curious expression: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

This certainly rings true for us Catholics, as we hear it each time we attend Mass. We recognize in the Eucharistic presence the Lamb of God, the one who is sacrificed on the Cross for our sin. Note that the Baptizer uses the word “sin” in its singular and not plural form. This is intentional as it draws attention to the collective sin of all of humanity and not merely the individual sins of each person. In the liturgical context, we make plural what is here singular. There our focus is on our own individual sinfulness, thereby expressing our personal desire to worthily receive the Eucharist.

The “Lamb of God” is the Paschal Lamb sacrificed at Passover for the forgiveness of the sin of Israel. In his use of this terminology and identification for Jesus, the Baptizer is pointing already to the climax of Jesus’s mission: his sacrificial Death on the Cross. The Baptizer, preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah and the promise of God’s Kingdom, takes it now even further as he points to the sacrificial Messiah and not a military champion who will lead the people in revolt against the Romans.

We see in the Lamb of God, Christ, truly present with us as we receive the Eucharist, sharing in his Passion and Death.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.