I Did Not Know Him Myself

From earliest times biblical commentators have speculated hugely and widely on the meaning of John the Baptist’s twofold admission of nescience in today’s gospel (John 1. 29–34):

‘I did not know him myself, and yet it was to reveal him to Israel that I came baptising with water.’

and

‘I did not know him myself, but he who sent me to baptise with water had said to me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is going to baptise with the Holy Spirit.”‘

Would it be very wrong to suggest that we can take a simpler and more direct view than that usually put forward? There are many people in the world who, often without realising it and certainly without making any claims for themselves, reveal something of God to us. Even more humbling is the realisation that we ourselves can be unwitting vehicles of revelation to others. There is a catch, however. To say, ‘I did not know him myself,’ is not merely to acknowledge that without grace we would not be able to recognize God or reveal him to others but also to admit that, deep down, we have somehow failed to know God as he desires and intends. That is not ‘failure’ as we usually understand it; it is not sinful, but it is matter for regret and an encouragement to change.

How do we know God? It is old-fashioned to say so, but prayer, reading the scriptures, receiving the sacraments and being generous in acts of charity and service are not only the best way but really the only way to come to knowledge of God. There is just one little problem, of course. We all have to ask ourselves, do we want to know God? For John the Baptist knowing God meant a hard life and an ugly death. It also meant joy of a most amazing kind. Not the easiest of choices, but one we too may be called upon to make.

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Body Worship

The ‘no make-up selfie’ discussion has largely passed us by in the monastery, but in an idle moment I did find myself wondering why Western society has become so obsessive about the body and preserving its youth and vitality for as long as possible. We all age; we all eventually die; but we like to keep those thoughts away from ourselves for as long as possible; and if going to the gym, dieting two days a week or a trip to the plastic surgeon will help preserve the illusion of immortality, what’s wrong with that?

At one level, there is nothing wrong with that. Our bodies are beautiful, no matter how flawed we think them, and we have a duty to look after them as well as we can. It is only through our bodies that we can know this world or prepare for the next. But, and it is a significant ‘but’, we are body-soul-spirit entities and the movement from birth to death, from youth to age, is more than a mere chronological sequence. It is an essential part of being human, part of the glory of being human. From this perspective, preoccupations with body image are secondary. What matters is that throughout life we allow our bodies to be exactly what they should be: the image and likeness of God. So, no negativity about the body, but no senseless exaltation of it, either!

The next time you look in the mirror and notice a spot or wrinkle, or think sadly of how you used to be able to run or jump, remember this: the body you were given was chosen for you from all eternity. It is the most perfect one you could have been given. It is not only how you know God but, even more important, how he knows you.

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