John 1: 29-34
These verses are the climactic conclusion of the prologue to the gospel according to John (1: 1-34). In the prologue John establishes the basic themes that will unfold in the ensuing drama of his gospel: Jesus, the Word from the beginning lives with God, is God. The Word became human and made his dwelling in our world of sin; those who accept Jesus become children of God and are at home in God.
In this Sunday’s gospel, John the Baptist sees Jesus approaching and identifies him as the one who will take away the sin of the world. Further, the Baptist testifies that he saw the Spirit come from heaven and remain upon Jesus. Then as Son of God, Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit, thus sharing his life with others.
Today’s gospel is not only the prologue to the drama of Jesus’ life; it is the prologue to the drama of every person’s life. We hear that Jesus wants to share his Spirit with every human being. The first act of our personal drama is about the decision to trust or not to trust this stranger, Jesus of Nazareth.
Upon believing that the Spirit did come upon Jesus, the immediate implication is the need to discover in all the gospels of the church year how Jesus responded to the Spirit in the particularity of his life and circumstances. Through prayer we then seek to discover how the Spirit will guide us in the particularity of our own life and circumstances.
Through the abiding presence of the Spirit, Jesus in his humanity was completely transparent to the presence of divine life. The meaning of his life was to do the Father’s will. Because of that intimate communion, all the actions and words of Jesus were signs (miracles) of divine, saving presence. Even in the darkness of this world, it was possible to see through the eyes of faith the loving presence of God through the humanity of Jesus.
We also discover in the gospels that through the Spirit Jesus lived in joy. Thus at the Last Supper, when his final agony was at hand, he explained why he was speaking of the mystery of divine life: “I have told you this that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete” (John 15:11). A “gloomy Christian” ought to be recognized as a contradiction in terms. Even in the midst of affliction the Spirit of Joy is within us. Saint Paul wrote to the Christians of Thessalonica: “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all believers…” (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
Our belief that the same Spirit who guided Jesus also guides us has profound implications for defining the meaning of human existence. Our hearts are restless until they abide in the loving communion of Father and Son through their Holy Spirit. If we are transparent to that divine life, our words and actions become signs of God’s loving presence in the world. Saint Francis of Assisi said this in a way easy to remember: “You may be the only gospel a person will ever read.”
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.