What Good Christians Do

Epiphany 1 Wednesday

Matthew 3:14

“But John stopped him and said: I truly need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?”

Matthew is the only evangelist to write this. It sounds as if John had recognized Christ before he baptized him. But the evangelist John writes that John did not recognize Christ; for this is what John the Baptist says in John 1:30-33: “I did not know him; I gave testimony that I am not the Christ; he who is before me will come after me; I know that it is my office that make him known to all people, but I do not know him. But he who sent me to preach gave me a sign, saying: “The one on whom you will see a dove descend and remain, he is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” Now look, this is what happened: John did not know him. To be sure, he knew that he existed, that he was among the people. But he did not know the person yet, was unable to say: “He is the one.” He had the sign and looked to the dove. He had baptized many and paid attention to them all. His heart thought: “When will he come? Perhaps this will be the one.” To be sure, John baptized many good people, but the sign had not taken place yet. But when Jesus was baptized, the sign occurred: Heaven opened and the Spirit descended on him like a dove, and the Father said: “This is my dear Son with whom I am well pleased.” And this happened after the baptism. But what are we to say about Christ and John blocking each other in this way? John wanted to be baptized by Christ, while Christ wanted to be baptized by John. Did John recognize him or not? According to Matthew’s words, he did, but John’s gospel is against this. Answer: We cannot say anything other than what John’s words say: It is true; he did not recognize him before the baptism. But he had a hunch that Christ was not a mere man, that there was something higher behind him. He also sensed him in the womb when Mary came to Elizabeth, Luke 1:41. He has a hunch but is not certain. Christ did not appear to him as other people did; there was something more powerful emanating from him than from other people. This is why he keeps his opinion, thinking that this one will be it: “He is a fine man. Why does he come to me?” Although he has not quite determined that he is the Christ, he considers him to be a great, valiant, and Spirit-filled man: He smells the Spirit, because power emanated from Christ. And it is also true that where there is such a Spirit-filled man, a person around such a man thinks that he feels better around him than around other people; the Spirit cannot hide himself. Some special power emanates from such people…Matthew’s words refer to this opinion John entertained, as if he had recognized him, but he was not sure. For the sign had not occurred yet; he had not seen the dove yet. John’s words refer to the sign, so that the Baptist did not know Christ for sure. This is how one must harmonize the two gospels; otherwise, they would be contradictory. Therefore, John now has this opinion and tests Christ and says: “I should be baptized by you.” In this way, John humbles himself and wants to submit to Christ as a good man. And Christ, for his part, submits to John. This is also what the good Christians do, as Paul indicates beautifully in Philippians 2:3-4 and Romans 12:10…Dear God, how these two good men could act in such humility! We wretched people, when we have a word or a verse, we must get it out; no one wants to cede to the other; one always wants to be in charge of the other; no one wants to wait until God pulls us to prominence. Look how Christ humbles himself, acts like any other person until someone else–the Father–pulls him to prominence.

St. Louis ed., 11:2136-2138.

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