Second Sunday, Year A, 15 January, 2023: Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34
I did not know him, John says of Jesus, even though he had been announcing his coming. Is that so unusual for us human beings in our engagement with God’s work? I think of the patriarch Jacob who woke from his dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder to the throne of God from the place where he was sleeping. He said, God was in this place and I did not know it! God’s engagement in our lives is often clearer in retrospect than as it unfolds. John the Baptist recognizes that he must step back from his expectations to recognize how God is entering his life. If he pretends to be at God’s service, then he must submit his expectations and plans to experience, discovering the signs of God’s presence. God isn’t limited to our information about God. According to Luke’s Gospel, that’s precisely how his father Zechariah went wrong when the Angel Gabriel told him that his wife would conceive John: How can I know this? I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years, Zechariah said. That’s another way of saying, “Do you angels actually understand how this works between a man and woman? This doesn’t compute with what I know!” By contrast John has the common sense and humility to step back from his preconceptions and notice what he doesn’t expect—what he can’t expect. No matter how bright or well-informed I am, God is so much greater and more of a Mystery to me than I am to myself. John hasn’t lost his capacity to be surprised by God.