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Bishop's Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

We ask, “Who do you think you are?” not as a put-down, but as a challenge.

By Bishop Larry Silva
January 15, 2017

[Hawaii Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services (50th anniversary Mass); St. Ann Church, Kaneohe (Admission to Candidacy for Permanent Diaconate)]

Who do you think you are?

This question is often asked as a put-down to someone who has a highly inflated ego and perhaps needs a reality check.  It is a question we always need to ask of ourselves, so that we can stay at least a step ahead of someone else who may more painfully ask this question to us.

Yet the question need not always be a negative at all.  It is a question John the Baptist pondered in his heart as he thought of Jesus, and it was by no means a put-down.  Now the Scriptures are not clear on this, but I think it can be presumed that John was acquainted with Jesus for most of his life.  He was six months older than Jesus, and their mothers were relatives close enough that Mary visited Elizabeth for three months while she was expecting John.  They did not live in the same place.  John’s birthplace, and presumably the place he grew up, was no more than a few miles from Jerusalem; while Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, was several days’ journey away.  Nevertheless, we know that the family of Jesus customarily went to Jerusalem at least once a year on pilgrimage, and it is likely that they would visit John’s family while they were there, perhaps even staying at their house.  Yet in this Gospel from John the Evangelist, John the Baptist says twice, “I did not know him.”  Yet at that moment when he sees Jesus approaching, he knows and reveals much more about Jesus than anyone could have imagined.

John says that Jesus existed before him.  What an amazing realization, since John must have known that he was born six months before Jesus!  Yet John understood that Jesus was the Son of God, who existed from all eternity.  He also calls Jesus “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  To call him a lamb had a very sacrificial connotation, especially coming from the lips of the son of one of the priests of the Temple.  This was three years before Jesus’ crucifixion, yet John already knew who Jesus was as the Lamb of sacrifice who would cleanse the world of sin.  John says he “saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him.”  When John, in his heart, asked of Jesus, “Who do you think you are?” it was no put-down, but a revelation from God, so that through the lips of John all the world would know who Jesus really was.

Now Jesus has certainly begun his ministry of taking away the sin of the world in a glorious way.  But he has obviously not completed it.  We still have violence, corruption, sexual perversions, and hatred.  We still are affected by apathy toward the poor and suffering.  There is still much sin in the world that Jesus yet needs to take away.  And so the question remains:  Who do you think you are?

Do you think you are simply someone who has been privileged to know the love of God in your life, so that you know you must come here to this sacrifice of thanksgiving at least every Sunday to deepen the gift of Jesus’ relationship with you?  Do you think you are someone who has been treated specially by the Lord?  Do you think you are the servant of the Lord, bowing down before him in prayer and liturgy, so that you can praise and worship him for taking away your sins?  Or are you something more?

Through Isaiah the prophet the nation of Israel is told by God, “It is too little for you to be my servant ... I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation my reach to the ends of the earth.”  So if you think you are called and chosen by God so that the Lamb of God can save you and embrace you with the joy of his love, we might very well ask the challenging question, “Who do you think you are?”  Yes, God has given you great blessings and great privileges in knowing him intimately and being baptized with the Holy Spirit.  But it is not enough.  There is much more.  You are a light to the nations!  You are the ones who have been chosen to shine with the fire of the Holy Spirit, not so that others can be attracted to you, but so that you can lead them, like John the Baptist, to the Lamb of God.

How many of our brothers and sisters say they know who Jesus is, but do not really know him?  They think he is only an inspired historical person who lived once upon a time in a far-off land.  They have not have had the overwhelming joy of experiencing Jesus as he really is, of really understanding that he is a human being but also the Son of the living God, the Lamb once slain who lives forever.  And how will they ever come to know who Jesus is, unless we tell them?  How will we be able to tell them unless we understand who we are:  not just servants, but a light to the nations; not shining for our own glory, but only to illumine the path to God, which is Jesus.

In very concrete ways – by feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless; by comforting the sorrowful and guiding the confused; by going into a world that sings a song of self-fulfillment that ultimately goes off-key and becomes sour, and all the while singing a song of self-giving that makes the world resound with incredible beauty – in these ways we ask the world, “Who do you think you are?”  And we help it answer ever more truly, “I am a son or daughter of God, ‘sanctified in Jesus Christ, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.”  We ask others, “Who do you think you are?” not as a put-down, but as a challenge to truly understand that they are so loved that their very sins are washed away, and that they are filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit.