One of the biggest mistakes we make is that we like to retroject knowledge onto people of the past. At the center of today's gospel is John. How often do we take what is written only in Lukw, mix it with parts of other gospel's and imagine that John had some kind of supernatural fore-knowledge of who Jesus was.
Today we hear the truth from John's own mouth, "I did not know him." He says it not once but twice, verse 31 and verse 34. And in the Gospel of John repetition always means he is telling us something important.
Like many Jews of the time, John was hoping for a Messiah. The Jewish people were dying under the weight of Roman occupation. Ritual bathing was a common part of the purification process used by many itinerant preachers like John.
What was unique was that John had been told by God, that the one on whom he saw the Spirit descend and abide, that one would baptize with the Spirit.
If we are to believe John, and I have no reason to doubt, it was not until the moment the Spirit descended on Jesus that John realized that Jesus was the one he had been hoping, waiting, and praying for. Jesus was the one, "The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."
Had John ever laid eyes on Jesus before that moment? Probably. But he "did not know him."
Two lessons seem clear
First of all, like John we can have God working right in front of us, and not see it. Particularly in difficult times we can ask "where is God?", without realizing what a ridiculous question that is. Is there any place on earth where God isn't?
Secondly, we so often make the mistake of thinking we know a person. Of all the languages I speak English is the only one that will dare to say both, I know his address, and I know him. Truth is, I may know lots of bits of data about a person, and simultaneously not know the person hardly at all. Most of us are lucky if as we get older we can reach a point where we know ourselves.
What puts John way ahead of most of us is that he is willing to admit his ignorance. We are loathe to say we are ignorant. We forget that ignorance is a curable condition. By being disciples (students) we can move out of our ignorance. We are never too old to learn.
How many of the people who grew up around Jesus never really came to know him, precisely because they thought they knew him. They thought they already knew who he was, when in reality they had no idea.
I will say I know about Jesus. I will say I believe in Jesus and all that the Church teaches about him. But do I know him, do I know him completely? I am not arrogant enough to say yes to that.
I a still a disciple, a student. Hopefully each day I fall deeper into the love of God and each day I come to know, my Lord, my God, my savior, my brother, the Lamb of God, just a little bit more.
John knew what he did not know. And it was this knowledge of his own ignorance that left him open to be shown the truth. May we all have the courage to embrace our own ignorance so that God may fill it with his wisdom.