Why does John the Baptist says he does not know Jesus? (John 1:29-34) After all, they knew one another already, because their mothers Elizabeth and Mary were cousins; and were so close that Mary makes a point of visiting Elizabeth when she finds she’s pregnant. I’m sure you all realise that the answer must be that John is talking about knowing Jesus in a different way. He might know him as his cousin, but now down by the River Jordan, John begins to get to know who Jesus in really is at a deeper level. Our Gospel has John say that he does not know him not once but twice, because our writer wants us all to take in that getting to know Jesus is more than just a surface thing. A few lines before this he’d written “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him”. (John 1:10-11)
This is what the world is like today, isn’t it. Lots of people know about Jesus. They know the Christmas story of his birth, of course, and maybe a bit about how he died, and that he taught people to love one another, but they don’t actually know him. They only know about him. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves that unlike those people out there, we do know him. Hopefully we know him better than they do, but getting to know Jesus means getting to know God, and that’s a lifetime’s work. There is always more to discover.
I was explaining last week that it was only quite recently that I discovered how science, that I used to hate, could bring me closer to God : that the study of the Universe proclaims the glory of God. It’s a bit like getting to know anyone. It’s only when we have time to talk, to share things together, that we begin to discover more about one another. I was talking to a friend I thought I knew well a little while ago, and suddenly discovered that we were both swimmers. It was just something that somehow we had never shared, and once we did, we both knew one another better.
When it comes to getting to know God better, there is one big difference. God already knows us better than we know ourselves. We heard that in the 1st Reading. (Isaiah 49:3-6) God is the one “who formed me in the womb”; and he’s also the one who knows I can do more than I think I can. “It is not enough for you to be my servant… I will make you the light of the nations.” How easy it is for us to underestimate ourselves! “I’m just a simple Christian” we say “Just serving God as best I can.” But God says to us: “You have no idea of your potential, of how much you are doing and how much more you can do, in all sorts of ways, to spread my light and my love.” It reminds me of the poem “Love bade me welcome, but my soul drew back..” ? That’s us. That’s you and me. God knows us and God believes in us despite all our failures. Our problem is that we don’t really believe in ourselves!
So how do we really get to know Jesus better? Well we forget that we’re already part of the Body of Christ. As Christians, Christ is in us and we are in Christ, God is in us and we are in God. That’s what we proclaim at our Baptism. So we get to know Jesus better, by being the Church, by hearing about God and Jesus each week in church and receiving him in Holy Communion, and also by growing closer to God through the help and example of our fellow Christians. They help us and we help them. Think of people who have helped you on your path so far, parents, friends, priests, and those we meet at Church, and also think of the great saints, the Christian heroes and heroines of the past.
We must never think of our relationship with God as simply something that we are responsible for, inside our head and our heart as we pray. Yes we must pray, but alone we’re not very good at it, are we? It’s easy to misunderstand ourselves, to get worried by our own hang-ups or distractions. Just as when we are talking with others, we may think we know what they are saying or thinking, but then discover later how wrong we were. If that’s the case when we talk to others, how much more so is it the case when we talk and listen to God.
Prayer is not talking at God, it is principally a response to what God has done and is doing for us, already. Unless we can become more aware of what God is already doing, not just in us but around us, and in and through our fellow Christians, we’re unlikely, when we ask for help, to be able to see where that help is. We’re looking for what we think is the answer inside our head, rather than seeing the answer that is already under our nose. There is, of course, no easy solution to this, no easy way to get to know God, no easy way to learn to pray. We just have to get on with it, to make time just to say our prayers yes, even if it is only a very short time, but much more to pray right through our day, to be more aware of God at work in every part of our life, and then to let his light shine through us.
So remember this week, every tiny thing you or I do, every time you smile and say “Hello” to someone and they smile at you, then the light of Christ is shining and you are getting to know God better. Yes, there will be much bigger things than that, but every tiny act of goodness by us to others, or by others to us, is Christ within us and around us, and that is our hope of glory.