January 15, 2017
II Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
The Gospel of John, after the prologue, which takes up the first 18 verses, opens with a solemn testimony about Jesus, and John the Baptist is the witness.
Jesus himself, further on, will recall precisely this testimony and will refer to it: after the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath day (Jn 5:1 ff), the leaders of the people will charge him with having violated the Law. And He will answer that he can do it because he is in harmony with the will of the Father, who is always working, and he will cite just John the Baptist as his witness: “If I testify on my own behalf, my testimony cannot be verified; but there is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that the testimony he gives on my behalf is true. You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth” (Jn 5: 31-33).
The testimony of John is true because he has seen. He has not simply heard talk, he has not pondered or imagined. He affirms and repeats twice: “I have seen” (Jn 1:32, 34).
The witness is he who has direct experience of the Lord, who enters into relationship with Him, who listens, waits and sees. Only then can his testimony be considered true, and he can be considered a credible witness.
A few verses further on, when the Baptist will send his own disciples to Jesus, Jesus will invite them to do exactly this: “Come and you will see” (Jn 1:39). And, having done so, they will in turn become witnesses.
What has John to tell about Jesus? What has he seen?
In the few verses of today’s Gospel, John tells many things of Jesus. We pause on two testimonies.
The first is a seemingly mysterious verse: “Behold him of whom I said: A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me” (Jn 1:30).
Simply, with amazement, John recognizes that this man, who as such would be born after him, in fact comes before. “He was before me”, that is, he always was, from all eternity; he is someone who always lives in a relationship of being, of love, of communion with God.
The great marvel of the Baptist is in seeing that this eternal being has today became flesh; and even more, that this eternal being, become flesh, is the Lamb of God! John intuits that He through whom all has been made is also He through whom all will be saved.
The second thing of which John is a privileged witness is the relationship of Jesus with the Spirit: “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me: The man on whom you will see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit” (Jn 1:33).
John sees that the Spirit rests on Jesus and remains, that in Him he sets up his stable and permanent dwelling (cf 1 Samuel 16:13). And then what he will do later, all will be done in the Spirit of the Father, in communion with Him. Through the Spirit, Jesus’ bond with the Father is a bond that cannot fail: Jesus will never abandon the Father, and the Father will never abandon Jesus.
So, we have seen the testimony of the Baptist; but the Gospel of John has another witness, who appears just when the Baptist disappears. He is the beloved disciple, whom tradition equates with John the evangelist himself. Also, several times, the verb “to testify” is used of him: “One who has seen gives testimony of him, and his testimony is true and he knows that what he says is true” (Jn 19:35); and, a little further on: “This is the disciple who gives testimony to these things and has written them: and we know that his testimony is true” (Jn 21:24). He also, like the Baptist, saw and believed (Jn 20:8), and for this reason can testify.
And he also, like the Baptist, is a witness of the special relationship of Jesus with the Spirit: his testimony is born under the cross when he sees his Master and Lord dying, that is, giving the Spirit (Jn 19:30).
So, if the Baptist sees – and so testifies – that the Spirit comes down and rests on Jesus, the beloved disciple sees – and testifies – that the dying Jesus gives to all the Spirit that he has received from the Father: the Spirit who had rested on Jesus, now rests on us.
There is a profound link, then, between the two witnesses: the testimony of the Baptist is fulfilled in that of the beloved disciple, and together they say that in Jesus the Spirit is given so that He can then share Him with each of us.
We therefore begin the journey of this year with this new horizon, with this ample breath, that of the Spirit who indwells us: let us never forget that within us there is – by grace – the same life of God; that “a divine seed remains in us” (1Jn 3:9).