In John the Baptist’s acknowledgment, I recognize a very constant dynamic of the spiritual life: I did not know him…But when John saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him, then he knows that Jesus is the Son of God.
One of my favorite passages in the Book of Genesis admits something similar. When Jacob awakes in Bethel from his dream of the ladder to heaven, he confesses: Truly, the Lord is in this place and I, I did not know!
I feel it would be petty, carping criticism to protest, why were John and Jacob so thick? Why weren’t they paying attention? I could counter by saying, John goes out, baptizing many, waiting to baptize a Jesus he doesn’t know, waiting on God’s time. Jacob intuitively chooses that sacred spot to sleep, rather than searching for a place providing more comfort than the bare ground and a stone for a pillow. And they are too engaged in, too present to what they are experiencing to second guess its significance.
That’s a lot better than the tourist who catches every sight on his smart phone but only sees the monuments of Rome or the majesty of the Grand Canyon while downloading the images. Was he really present to where he was at?
John and Jacob fully participate in their experiences which empowers them then to reflect and recognize its substance. Like all of us, the experience equips them to catch up with the experience. They don’t reduce it by filtering it through their expectations or amputate it to fit their half-baked concepts.
Think of the people Isaiah addresses in our First Reading: they are exiles who have suffered the loss of families, friends and homes, their most basic identity, their dignity and freedom. They thoroughly suffered their unhappy fate and have no reason to expect their restoration. But that’s exactly what happens to them: they are restored and healed. I suspect it is all they suffered that shook out the dross to make them a light to the nations, that God’s salvation may reach the ends of the earth.
Is that any different from the work of God’s grace in our lives?