The Baptist's witnessing to Jesus

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

Second Sunday in Ordinary Times

We are all familiar with the proliferation of Christian sects and churches all over the world with each one claiming to be the true Church of Christ. In fact, there are now more or less 21,000 such Christian churches and growing. This phenomenon is attributed to the belief in and practice of private interpretation of the Bible by their founders. On the other hand, there is only one Catholic Church. This is so because from the beginning the Church has always upheld the tripod of the Catholic Faith: Scriptures, Tradition and the Magisterium (the living teaching office of the Church which is primarily vested in the Pope).

The early Church was not spared of the problem of proliferation though not because of private interpretation as there was yet no written New Testament to interpret (the gospels, for example, were written between 70 and 90 A.D.). According to Scripture scholars, the problem had to do with the Baptist sect which believed that John the Baptist, not Jesus, was the Messiah. It argued that John was superior to Jesus for two reasons: first, John was prior to Jesus and thus superior to Him and second, Jesus submitted to John's baptism of repentance thus making Him inferior to John.

John the Evangelist confronted this problem head–on in his account on John the Baptist, specially in today's gospel reading (Jn. 1:29–34). Though he admitted that priority indeed meant superiority, it was Jesus who was superior to John because He pre–existed John. As the Baptist himself said: "He is the one of whom I said, 'A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.'" This echoes what the Evangelist said in the Prologue of his gospel: "In the beginning was the Word,... All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be."

As to John's superiority because he was the one who baptized Jesus, the Evangelist dropped the account of Jesus' baptism by John altogether. Instead, he took pains to show John's witness to Jesus not only by proclaiming that He existed from eternity but also as the Lamb of God "Who takes away the sin (original) of the world." In the Old Testament, the word "lamb" meant both servant and lamb. Thus in Isaiah we see the Suffering Servant described as the lamb who would bear the sins of the world (Is. 53:7). By referring to Jesus as the Lamb of God, the Baptist was in effect saying that Jesus was the Servant of God spoken of by Isaiah Who was to make Himself the Lamb to be sacrificed in order "to take away the sin of the world." Jesus was the sacrificial lamb, the victim whose death was to effect the release of humankind from sin. Thus this early, the Baptist was already indirectly proclaiming that Jesus' mission of redemption would involve suffering and death.

We can learn more about the witnessing of the Baptist to Jesus in the way he answered the questions of the messengers sent by the religious leaders of the Jews. When asked, "Who are you?" he answered, "I am not the Messiah." When asked, "Are you Elijah?" he answered, "I am not." Finally, when asked "Are you the Prophet?" he answered, "No." From John's responses, we can see that he kept on declaring who he was not in order to say who Jesus was: Jesus was everything that John was not. This so that Jesus, not he, would be the center of attention. In fact, in a final tribute to Jesus, John said, "He must increase; I must decrease" (Jn 3:30).

Since John the Evangelist's account on the Baptist gives us a summary of Who Jesus was and why He should therefore be the center of attention, it is not surprising that his account was the favorite post–baptismal text used by the early Church.

Most of us were baptized when we were still infants. Then we did not yet know anything about what Jesus had done for us. But our parents, our first John the Baptists, took extra pains to raise us as Christians and teach us about the Person of Jesus and His message. As we grew older, others reinforced and deepened the faith we have received from our parents. One final point about the Baptist. After he pointed Jesus to his disciples and urged them to follow Him, he faded into the background. The same should happen to those who have brought us up and instructed us in the faith. And we, who have now accepted Jesus and live by His teachings and example, have the responsibility to witness to this faith to others — in our family, our school, our place of work, our neighborhood, and in the wider community.

In sum, we are all called to be other John the Baptists, that is, to point others to and witness to our faith in Jesus through our words and examples so that He will take center–stage in their lives too.