A local man was staggering along Main Street trying to read the morning newspaper when he came upon the parish priest and greeted him politely, "Morning. Father!" But the priest was trying to put the next Sunday's homily together in his mind and was annoyed at this intrusion; so he ignored the greeting and kept on walking. But the tipsy man was not put off that easily, "S'cuse me Father," he repeated. "Could you tell me what causes arthritis?" The priest ignored that too. But when the the drunk man persisted, the priest turned to him and snapped impatiently, "You want to know what causes arthritis? I'll tell you what causes arthritis: drinking too much causes arthritis. Gambling causes arthritis. Carousing with loose women causes arthritis! Why do you ask?" The man replied, "Because it says here in the morning paper that the pope has arthritis."
The priest might have seen that coming. Why didn't he? Because he was too caught up in his own agenda. John the Baptist knew about that sort of thing, as he confesses in today's Gospel. He had known his cousin Jesus all his life. They were about the same age. Undoubtedly they played together as children and ate together at family celebrations. But all those years, John didn't realize that Jesus was the chosen One of God until he baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. That was the moment that John first saw Jesus through the eyes of faith. The heavens opened. A voice from heaven publicly acknowledged the reality: Jesus is the chosen One upon whom God's favor rests. John saw because the Abiding Spirit invited him to see.
The Abiding Spirit invites us as well to see Jesus as the Chosen One. When we accept the Spirit's invitation to be people of prayerful faith, we give the Spirit the freedom to open ourselves to this reality: Our "yes" is rewarded. It's amazing how we can read so much into what we see with our eyes, as when an accountant expertly reads a corporate balance sheet, or a doctor examines a difficult diagnostic test result, or a parent interprets a confused look on a teenager's face. As these people know what to look for because of their training and experience, so we can train ourselves to recognize the realities of our faith if it's important enough to us.
But we cannot allow ourselves to be caught up in our own agendas, as was that priest walking down Main Street. Let's stay alert to the promptings of the Spirit in our lives. The Spirit is constantly encouraging us to a closer relationship with Jesus. Let's pray! Let's remain peaceful, thankful, compassionate and forgiving.
John the Baptist was finally able to see Jesus as more than his cousin. He was finally able to shout out to all present at the River Jordan that day: "I'm telling you there's no question about it! This is the Son of God!" May we proclaim this truth with the same enthusiasm in our words and actions!