You will receive power to be my witnesses (Acts 1, 8)
John the Baptist knows who the reason for his mission is. We surely know the Christian’s raison d’être. But do we really testify to the Lord’s servant? Are we credible due to our humble and obedient service, because we are committed to spreading God’s grace and peace, to raising the marginalized, and not to protecting our interests?
John comes baptizing to give witness to Jesus. He acknowledges his subordinate role. He insists on the one witnessed to increasing and the witness decreasing. He gives his disciples reason to exchange him for Jesus.
The baptizer is unlike us. We love dropping names—of prominent relatives, friends or acquaintances—not so much to honor them as to put on airs. John even admits not knowing Jesus before (the fourth gospel says nothing about the two being relatives). Thus, the precursor does not point to himself, but rather to the one who comes after him.
And the one pointed out is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world: Jesus is like the paschal lamb, whose blood served as the Israelites’ sign, so that they might not be touched by the destructive plague; he is the Lord’s suffering servant, submissive like a lamb led to the slaughter; he is the slain lamb of Revelation, victorious in the end.
The Lamb atones for sins, yes, and saves us. But his death is not in order to appease a God so irate with us sinners that he demands our blood or the blood of our substitute. Should we think so, we would be upholding the heresy that Jesus saves us from God the Father (Madeleine L’Engle).
The Crucified saves us from sin. His death is saving because it reverses the prideful disobedience in Eden. The only way to salvation is the way of humility and obedience taken by Jesus in our behalf and by John. The Word made flesh makes it known that to be human is not at all an evil to be ashamed of. Genesis makes clear that evil and shame derive from our proud and disobedient craving to be at God’s level and deny our creatureliness.
The new Adam took the form of a slave and was known to be of human estate, humble and obedient unto death. “Because of this, God greatly exalted him.” The way of service and humility is the sure and infallible way (Pope Francis, January 7, St. Martha’s).
Jesus deifies his witnesses whose love for life does not deter them from death and who fulfill the Vincentian advice, “Above all, have no craving to play the superior or the master” (Coste XI, 346). The weakness of such authentic partakers of Jesus’ sacrifice is strength.