Our first reading this morning is heavy.
“You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory.”
Wow. Those words are addressed to you. And they are weighty words, because God has a great glory than you, or anyone else, can ever imagine. And yet, it is through you that he wants to show forth than immense weight of glory. Someone you are called to communicate and shine with the glory of God.
“It is too little, the LORD says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel.”
Look, restoring the survivors of Israel is no easy task. The entire history of Israel since 1000 BC has been one of disunity and diaspora. And yet God seems to have a greater task for you.
“I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
You. He will make you a light to the nations. He will use you to ensure that his salvation reaches the ends of the earth.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, God is not kidding around when he gives you this charge, to spread the Gospel and be a light to the nations, and neither is the Church. Vatican II made it very clear in the document Lumen Gentium that brining Jesus into the world was primarily the work of the laity:
“Now the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth. Thus every layman, in virtue of the very gifts bestowed upon him, is at the same time a witness and a living instrument of the mission of the Church itself […]. Upon all the laity, therefore, rests the noble duty of working to extend the divine plan of salvation to all men of each epoch and in every land. (LG 33)”
As a clergyman, I cannot go into your workplaces, your soccer games, or your local watering holes. Only you can bring Jesus to these places, and God calls you to do so.
If you are somewhat overwhelmed by this idea, good. It is a heavy, heavy charge. That said, you never engage in this work alone. You are a member of a community of faith, that is united in the mission of spreading the Gospel message, and there is incredible strength in that unity. Plus, our Gospel selection today is kind of like a how-to cheat-sheet on how to help people find Jesus, so let’s go through that together.
First, notice that before John the Baptist could point to Jesus and say “behold the Lamb of God,” Jesus actually had to show up. See, no one is going to believe in Jesus if they have not first had an experience of Jesus, maybe in a moment of extreme joy or suffering, maybe in the love and care of a Christian, maybe in the ancient liturgies and traditions of the Church. We can talk about Jesus all we want, but until he decides to break into someone’s life himself, our words will fall on rocky soil. This is absolutely the hardest part about helping people to try to find Jesus: we do not have control over the process, we have to be patient and wait for the Lord to work.
Of course, John knew this, but that did not stop him from talking about Jesus. At one point in the Gospel, he basically says “See I told you! I told you this guy was coming!” Even though John knew that people would need to see Jesus in person before they would follow him, John spent years in the dessert getting them ready, telling them about the one who was going to come. That is the same kind of preparation that goes into evangelization. Whenever we talk about the importance of Jesus in our life, whenever we tell others about the peace, or the direction, or the strength that our faith brings us, we are preparing the way for Jesus to come into their lives. We are saying “Hey, there is this guy, and he made my life way better. And he is coming, just you wait.”
Then Jesus comes. John points to him and says “look, pay attention, there he is!” And that is exactly what we have to do. When one of our friends or colleagues or family members finally does have an experience of Jesus, we need to be there to say “See, that’s the guy I was talking to you about! That’s the one I told you to be ready for!” This stage is so important, because people often experience Jesus without even knowing it. When someone feels that special feeling after serving the poor, they need to know they are experiencing the love of Jesus. When an addict finally finds the power the take back control over their life, they need to know that they are experiencing the strength of Jesus. When someone with suicidal thoughts finds a reason to live, they need to know that they’ve experiencing the life-giving light of Jesus. We have to point this out so that they can experience these things again. For too many people, such experiences only happen once. But for those who build off of these experiences and begin to follow Jesus, they happen over and over and over again.
And what is the last thing that John does? He talks about his own, initial experience of Jesus, when he first became convinced that he should follow Jesus. This helps bring the people beyond just experiences into a community of faith. It helps them see that other people know Jesus, too, and they have been gathered together by him across time and space to share in a community of faith. Once someone has come to know Jesus, we cannot allow them to flail around like a sheet in the wind, we need to invite them inside, in the fellowship of believers.
My friends, there is nothing more loving you can ever do for another human being than to help them know and love Jesus Christ. Jesus brings peace, he brings strength, he brings life. God has entrusted you with this most important mission, but he has already given you the grace and the community you need to carry it out. We can do no better than John the Baptist: prepare the way for the Lord, and then be there to point him out when He comes.