Why John did not Know Jesus

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

January 15, 2023

John 1:29-35

Reading through today’s Gospel, we may have some questions in our minds, “why did John call Jesus ‘the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?’ and ‘why did John say that he did not know Jesus and Jesus was before him?’ we know for sure that John was a relative of Jesus and, in fact, he was born six months ahead of Jesus. In this reflection, I will no longer write about the identity of Jesus as the Lamb of God because I have talked about it two years ago [kindly check my reflection dated January 17, 2021]. Thus, we try to answer the second question.

We know from the Gospel of Luke that Mary and Elizabeth, the mother of John, were close relatives, and Mary even spent around three months at the place of Elizabeth and Zachariah, her husband [Luk 1:39-56]. The birth of John and Jesus are even closely linked. Sometimes, I stumble upon a religious art depicting John and Jesus were playing together as little children. Surely, this is coming from the imagination and creativity of the Christian artists. Then, why did suddenly John say ‘he did not know Jesus’?

The answer may be discovered in the early life of John recorded in the Gospel of Luke. Luke writes that John grew strong in the Spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel (see Luk 1:80). Thus, John may hear about Jesus from his parents, but it is most likely that they were never personally met because John was in the wilderness since he was very young. Why wilderness? How could a young child survive in the wilderness? A number of scholars suggest that John, as young boy, entered one of the Essences communities. The Essences are the Jewish religious group that flourished in the time of John, and they were well-known for their strict adherence to the Law of Moses. They were also famous because they lived as communities in the wilderness.

Another interesting thing is that John said that Jesus was ‘before’ him. Yet, John was born earlier than Jesus. Here, John was not referring to the chronological date of birth and biological age. By divine inspiration, John testified that Jesus has existed even before him, and in fact before everything else. This is consistent with the prologue of the fourth Gospel (see John 1:1-14). Even before Jesus was born into the world, He was already with the Father and the Holy Spirit for all eternity. John the Baptist recognized the divinity identity of Jesus.

What do we learn from John’s testimony? Many of us may know little about Jesus. We may celebrate His birthday every year and recognize His face (because of the shroud of Turin), and be familiar with some His stories and teachings, but we do not know much about Him. Even for many biblical scholars and theologians who spend almost their lives to study Jesus’ life, Jesus remains a mystery. Here is the consolation: even John, Jesus’ relative, does not know much about Jesus!

It is true that John knew very little about Jesus, but what he recognized is the most fundamental, that is, Jesus was before him. In short, Jesus is divine. Surely, I am not saying that we must stop getting to know Jesus, and simply believe that He is divine. In the contrary, we are invited to know Him better and deeper, and at the same time, we must not lose sight of the fundamental: His divine identity. Otherwise, we can easily fall into a temptation that Jesus is anything, but divine. In our study, we can discover that Jesus is a great prophet, a wonderful healer, a powerful exorcist, a righteous teacher, but if we fail to acknowledge His divinity, everything will be in vain.

St. John the Baptist, pray for us.


Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

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