January 15 2017 John 1 :29-42
Can you remember people in your life who had a major impact on you? People who taught you, maybe even shaped you? If so, I think it might help you understand today’s gospel.
In today’s gospel reading, we hear about John the Baptist and I see in him a powerful model of generativity, the capacity to pass on what we had learned!
As I looked at the text this week, I was struck with how John the Baptist was so not filled with himself. He was always pointing to Jesus. How did he get there? How did this powerful preacher who had everyone talking about him, even King Herod, get to the point that, he kept pointing others to Jesus?
If we piece together the various references in the gospels, we have the pregnant Mary visiting her pregnant relative Elizabeth, who is carrying John the Baptist. From that we can gather that John and Jesus were somehow related. I was wondering, did they meet in growing up? Did the two families ever meet up in Jerusalem during Passover, and as cousins of sorts, hit it off?
John’s parents were quite elderly. His father prophesied at John’s birth that his son would play an important role in preparing the way for the messiah. We don’t hear anything more about John till the gospels start mentioning how he had developed quite the reputation preaching in the wilderness. His parents had been quite elderly so we can assume that at some point fairly early that he went into the wilderness seeking to prepare himself, and others for the coming of the Messiah.
I was thinking he was a bit like the French Canadian tradition of having at least one child designated as a religious. I am one of 5, and from an early age, there was an awareness of would become one. I remember how I received from my great-grandmother, at a clan Christmas celebration, I was maybe 8, an altar set. I loved it!
Going back to the gospel story, we know Jesus began his ministry at age 30, and it began with his baptism in the Jordan river by John. What had been happening till then? Bruce Chilton, a biblical scholar, in his book, Rabbi Jesus, suggests that Jesus may have joined John in the Wilderness, prior to His baptism, and that he would have been, for a time, a disciple of John’s.
I find that idea interesting. We assume Jesus was a carpenter because of the reference in Mark, and the fact that Joseph would have taught his trade to his son. Did Jesus continue to work with his hands till one day at the age of 30, he put down his tools and went to be baptized by John, maybe.
Or like many people, since Jesus was fully human, was he searching needing to figure out what the inner sense of connection he felt with God meant? I like Chilton’s idea, Jesus, for a time, joined his distant relative John, in the wilderness as part of his own spiritual quest.
Now let’s go back to John. He welcomes his distant relative Jesus as a disciple. Jesus listens and tries to understand how John’s views fit in with his own understanding and experience of God. How long did it take for John the Baptist to recognize that Jesus was the one, the Messiah? How long did it take Jesus to recognize that his views were very different than John’s?
I think John’s relationship with Jesus is a good example of generativity. He taught what he understood about God to Jesus. To use modern language, he mentored him. And as a good mentor, he was able to understand when his student had surpassed him. Today’s text is a beautiful example of that.
I want us to stop awhile and think how John’s example of his relationship with Jesus can speak to us.
First of all, it is important for each one of us to play a role on passing on what we have learned. I remember from my days at university in psychology and counselling courses, Erikson’s theory of the stages of psychosocial development. Erik & Joan Erikson had come up with these 8 stages. The seventh was generativity vs stagnation, usually between 40-64. Either we stagnate or we pass on to others what we have learned.
Parenting is obviously a place where that can happen. I have had the pleasure and challenge of raising two children, where some of that happened, but generativity is in no way limited to just parenting.
It is in the natural order of things that young men often leave the shadow of their fathers to find themselves. What they frequently do in that process, is find other older men that will teach and mentor them. This pretty much happens in all fields of life; education, church, business. Teachers, pastors, bosses can play that important role in a young person’s life.
I have had the blessing of having been mentored by several people over the years. Just as, I have also had many experiences over the years where I was able to mentor others.
Now, I want to be clear, this mentoring role is not just for people who have hit the magical number of 40. Jean-Daniel, our children and family minister, has mentioned how there are university students ready to mentor youth. That is great, mentoring happens when we are ready to pass on to another what we have learned.
Opportunities to help others grow, abound. I want to encourage you to look for those opportunities where you can mentor those younger, or less experienced.
Like John the Baptist with Jesus, each one of us has a responsibility and is called to pass on to those younger, or who have less experience than ourselves, what we have learned.
Look for those opportunities to mentor and pass on what you have learned.
There is a second thing I would like us to draw from John’s relationship with Jesus. Jesus may well have been his disciple for a time, but John respected that his role was to prepare, not to make a copy of himself.
Jesus shared John’s message of repentance but where as John saw a messiah who was going to burn all that was not pure, Jesus had a very different vision of how God would work. Jesus depicted God as a father who was ready to forgive, to go out looking for those who had lost their way. He did not stay in the wilderness, like John. He went to where the people were. Eating and drinking with them., mixing with them.
As difficult as it might have been for John to accept, he was able to see in Jesus the next step. In today’s gospel, he says, He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. We all have likely seen images of Jesus’ baptism with the Spirit descending on him as a dove. What I find interesting in this passage is there is no dove but only a reference to the Spirit descending and remaining. John knew Jesus was the One because he saw that Jesus’ life reflected the Spirit’s presence.
John the Baptist did not seek to make a copy of himself, but let the Spirit do her work.
Last Thursday, I was the officiant for the French Eucharist. It happened to be the feast day of Marguerite Bourgeoys. On Thursday of last week, it had been 317 years since she passed away.
I remembered vaguely about her from my history lessons as a child so I did a bit of research. She came in the very first years of the settlement of Ville-Marie, what has become this beautiful city of Montreal. Her calling was to teach the First Nations children as well as the children of the settlers. She set up the first school. Five years later, she recruited four women in France to join her. She established a religious order where, unlike most religious orders, the women would not be cloistered, but would be out in the world where they could continue their mission to teach. Her order became the congregation of Notre-Dame.
Later to help the Filles du Roy who had been sent over by the King of France to help colonize a mostly male settlement, she set up a pensionnat where the sisters could teach these women how to survive and found families in the harsh conditions. The Maison St Gabriel still stands in Pointe St Charles.
A few years later, a school was set up outside of the settlement for First Nations children. A fort was built with four stone towers, the western tower was used as the school, and the eastern tower as a residence for the sisters. Those two still stand today, in front of the Grand Seminaire on Sherbrooke st west. Her religious community grew because she let the Spirit continue to work in her order.
The same must be true for us. As we mentor another, as we seek to pass on what we have learned, we must not seek to make clones of ourselves. We can let the Spirit continue to do her work.
Pass on what you have learned but don’t expect to make a clone of yourself
Finally, John the Baptist could recognize that he needed to make room for Jesus. John was able to let go.
One might wonder, what did John feel as he gave way for Jesus? From what we read, he seemed to be at peace with it. In this Gospel, he is happy to point to the one who is the Lamb of God.
When we find ourselves in a mentoring relationship, there comes a time where that person will realize they have learned what they needed to learn from you, and they will move on. They may even do better than you and that is ok. Jesus left John the Baptist so he could find his own way.
What I have learned through life is that as gratifying as it is to mentor another, and as sad as it is a bit to see someone move on, that is the nature of the role of the mentor, to mentor and to let go.
So as we mentor others, as we pass on what we have learned, we have to let them go for the Spirit will continue Her work.
My sisters and brothers on the journey, John the Baptist has taught us today that whether we are parents, school teachers, professors or factory supervisors, we are called to pass on to others what we have learned.
As we do so, we must not expect people to become like us but to trust the Spirit will continue to do her work in them.
And finally, when they feel ready, we must let them go to become who they are meant to be.
May each one of us like John the Baptist help prepare the way for what God has yet to accomplish in others. Amen.