I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”
On this Fourth Sunday after Christmas we hear the testimony of John. In the gospel, John twice says: “I did not know him.”
It seems odd for John to say such a thing. Afterall, John and Jesus were cousins. It is true that they lived in different towns, and transportation was hard on foot. Based on Church Tradition, John lived with his family in Ein Kerem, an eighty-mile, three-day journey on foot from Nazareth. Yet, it is highly likely they did know each other. It was common for larger Jewish family gatherings to occur, especially during festivals, as well as in pilgrimages to Jerusalem. So why would John say: “I did not know him?”
Remember, that this Epiphany season is about revelation, Jesus becoming known. What John experienced following Jesus’ baptism was a deeper knowing of Who Jesus is. He was no longer the cousin I knew back when. Actually, I probably knew Him better in my mother’s womb when I leapt for joy. Now, I really get it. The Holy Spirit has helped me to see; I see Jesus in fulness according to the Spirit.
Like John, seeing and experiencing the Lord in the fullness of His being and then acting upon that knowledge is the grace of God working in us. It is the Holy Spirit inspiring us. It is also a call to look beyond mere appearance and to see each and yes, every person, as the image of Emmanuel, the image of God among and with us.
John acted on his knowledge and spoke of it to the crowd. He pointed to “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He spoke of what happened in his life. He is literally saying that his work, there by the river, was about making Jesus known.
As the faithful, we are called to make Jesus known. I would ask that we think about this work in a slightly different way. Christians often approach those who do not know as those who do not know, in other words, uninformed. What we might miss is in the saying of: “I did not know him,” they like John already do know. They exhibit the traits of one who knows Jesus, in their goodness and love. They are created in His image. We, in our work, just need to help them see the fulness of what they already know.