John the Baptist knew an awful lot about Jesus for having met him just once. Well, actually twice. The first meeting was Mary visiting Elizabeth when pregnant, and John somehow knowing at this pre-born age that the Lamb of God was in his presence in the belly of Mary his mother. The first meeting between John and Jesus caused John to leap for joy, do a high-five, spike the football, and hit a grand slam all in one play.
How could John know of Jesus’ presence so early, while he hid in the safety net of his own mother’s womb? Only through the power and great mystery of the Holy Spirit that filled both children and mothers could a pre-born child acknowledge the presence of the Messiah before him. That’s a world of holiness we don’t quite understand, but a joy that awaits us.
The second meeting came about 30 years after the leaping incident. By this time, the souls of John’s parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, went off to the holding cell; the place where the souls of the just waited for the resurrection of Jesus to officially open the doors of heaven forever and ever. And St. Joseph too, we believe had entered eternal life. Much will change in 30 years’ time.
The second meeting was celebrated last week when John, again, recognized the Holy One of God walking toward him at the Jordan River. The proof of John’s recognition of Jesus was John’s initial refusal to baptize Jesus. It was a most humble act by John, accompanied by the words, “You’re the one who should be baptizing me, the Baptizer.” We all know how that went down. Jesus went down in the water, baptized by John to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus won again, as usual. Even when he dies, he wins. And in that truth lies our hope.
But here we are at the third meeting of John and Jesus not long after the Lord’s Baptism. And John gives us words, again, that place the entirety of our relationship with Christ into perspective; “A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.”
John was not fooled by anyone he met. And he didn’t subscribe to anyone’s political party because they don’t want someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit and truth. Yet, here’s John folding up like a lawn chair, and melting like a grilled cheese on a hot stove, in the presence of his own relative, Jesus of Nazareth. When’s the last time we spoke about a relative the way John spoke about Jesus? That they ranked ahead of us, because they existed before us? Have you ever said such words about an elder sibling or cousin? I have plenty of them, and I never said that! And I never will!
But John the Baptist did. He folded up like a glove; “I must decrease, he must increase.” John melted all his holiness, in fact, his entire life, right into the hand of Jesus. After just three meetings, one of them in the womb, he knew all this information about Christ.
“The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” Not only sins, personal sins, which he does blot out. But, “the sin of the world.” The singular sin, of disobedience in the Garden. Conquered by the Divine and human perfection of obedience in Jesus of Nazareth.
How did John know such things, such truths about Jesus from two meetings in person, and one meeting in the womb 30 years before? Such knowledge is possible only in the mystery of God’s wonder and the Spirit’s power to infuse into John such wisdom in such limited time. It takes spouses years to know the deepest part of each other. The same with relatives and friends. But John knew things about Jesus that only Jesus’ mother knew. And she raised him and lived with him for 30 years. It’s no wonder Jesus says, “There is no one born of woman greater than John the Baptist.”
John introduces us to our Savior in ways that no one else does in the Scriptures. John didn’t know half of what Mary knew about her Son. Gabriel came to her. Gabriel, who stands before God, didn’t come to John. Gabriel did come to John’s father Zechariah, and then shut him up for 9 months for wrongly questioning heaven’s personal message.
But only John gives to the world a unique perspective on the Person of Jesus: “The Lamb of God;” “He ranks ahead of me;” “He existed before me.” Not in the womb, but from all eternity he existed. That’s what John knows about Jesus.
Our faith lives, our Catholic faith lives, rightly have holy devotion to the Mother of God. If she is not an integral part of our personal relationship with Jesus, then we are placing aside the aorta valve that leads to the heart of Christ her Son. She’s the number one artery that pumps our blood into the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
With that said, John the Baptist has an artery that also leads to the heart of Jesus. It’s not the aorta, the most important artery. But it’s an artery nonetheless. One that our Catholic lives of faith and prayer do well to include. It’s the Lamb of God artery; the Ranking Ahead of Me artery; the One Who Existed Before Me artery.
Incorporating these images of Jesus into our spiritual lives of faith and prayer will only deepen our knowledge and understanding of Christ our Lord. And the Source of such knowledge is the Spirit touching the holiness of John in mysterious ways, speaking truths about Jesus that draw us into a deeper communion with our Savior.