Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, 2021.
One of the striking aspects of the gospel account according to Saint John is how in his account, the core disciples (which includes the Twelve, but also others including the holy women) are shown to recognize the divinity of Jesus during his ministry of preaching and teaching, walking about them, eating, drinking, healing, praying, and spiritually guiding. This is very different than the gospel accounts according to Saint Matthew, Saint Mark, and Saint Luke. In those three, the core disciples, especially the men of the Twelve, do not recognize who Christ is, until after the Passion. Only when Jesus crucified and risen walks among them and shows them how to read Scripture do they recognize Him. For Saint Luke, for example, the crucified and risen Christ opens the scriptures and breaks bread, and He is recognized only then.
Such is not the case for John’s gospel, however. Immediately in John’s gospel, the first chapter, we have the strong declaration from Saint John Baptist: “Behold! The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world!” which John Baptist repeats a few verses later. That is a recognition that the disciples only began to grapple with in the end of the three other gospel accounts. Where those end, the gospel according to John begins. And, furthermore, it is from hearing John Baptist’s confession—Behold! The Lamb of God! (which, of course, is taken up into our eucharistic liturgy when the priest turns with the Blessed Sacrament, the words being proclaimed by the priest are the same as the words proclaimed by John Baptist, and with the same meaning—it is from hearing John Baptist’s confession that the Twelve disciples of Jesus began to come together. Initially it was Andrew who heard John Baptist and felt called. Then Andrew did the same to Peter, his brother, and Peter felt called. Then Jesus showed Himself in Galilee and said to Philip “Follow Me.” And then Philip repeated the pattern with Nathanael (who later name was Bartholomew) and he felt called. And with this, the initial quartet of four disciples was set (or, quintet of disciples, if you include John Baptist). All of this is so very different from the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, that it begs the question, what is Saint John after with this? What is the purpose behind the way he is telling the Gospel, even its very beginning?
What John is after is emphasizing the centrality of the Holy Spirit to being a follower of Christ. And we see this when we look at the verses that directly precede our Gospel passage today. Sandwiched in between the two proclamations by John of “Behold! The Lamb of God!” is his necessary preaching in which John Baptist says, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.” John then adds, “Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” The emphasis in John Baptist’s preaching is a central teaching on the Christian faith: the teaching that it is the Holy Spirit at work whenever Christ is recognized. For it was by the Holy Spirit that Jesus truly came to John Baptist, when in Jesus of Nazareth John saw the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world. It is the Holy Spirit Who revealed to John the correct interpretation of Jesus, He Who is the image (the icon) of the invisible Father. And the chain of calling that was outlined earlier is a chain of the Holy Spirit at work through John Baptist and through Andrew, just as the Holy Spirit was at work upon John Baptist at Jesus’s baptism.
This is why Saint Paul puts such strong emphasis on the Holy Spirit to the Greek Christians in Corinth. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” In context, this is part of Paul’s teaching about the high view of the human body in Christianity. But his teaching is all of a piece, and the whole of it is so breathtaking that it can only be taught in parts—and the whole of it is the sheer and unfathomable gift of the Holy Spirit to us. Through Him, the Holy Spirit, our hearts are transformed. Through Him, we are purified. Through Him, we are taught to pray. Through Him, we are led more and more, deeper and deeper, into the Truth Who is Christ. And, that the Holy Spirit is in our body, that our body is His temple. Let us continue to pray unceasingly, brothers and sisters, that just as Christ overturned the tables of the money changers in the Temple, the Holy Spirit overturns our sinful habits and replaces them with godly habits of obedience and works of charity according to the threefold Regula, that Christ’s House, His temple, which is miraculously our body, which is our heart baptized, may not be a den of thieves, but rather, a house of prayer.