“St. John the Baptist showing Christ to St. Andrew”
(1585 – c. 1643)
Church of San Gaetano
Painted in the 17th Century by Ottavio Vannini.
Clothed in camel’s hair, John stands bending backwards with most of his weight on one foot while the second rests on a rock. Both the camel’s hair and the rock symbolise temperance, endurance and rejection of worldly affairs. His red cloak announces his imminent martyrdom and his holy zeal for the Lord.
His gestures are truly intriguing.
· In his right hand he clutches a bamboo reed indicating his simplicity and humility.
· While with his left hand, he points to the Lamb of God. Now this expression bears striking resemblance to the ‘Hand of God’ of Michelangelo.
The real protagonist of this painting is Jesus himself.
· While his red cloak connotes his humanity, the blue mantle signifies his divinity.
· His right hand is poised onto his chest with the three open fingers revealing the Mystery of the Trinity.
· The two closed fingers exemplify his dual nature as God and man.
· The tri–radiant halo is a constant reminder of Christ as the second person of the Holy Trinity.
The religious significance of the painting is John’s faithfulness to his mission.
· The audience is represented in the painting through the anonymous Disciple whose face is turned towards us.
· As the embodiment of humanity, the Disciple invites us through John’s testimony, to encounter God and to follow Him.
John 1:6-8, 19-28
6 “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.
8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ 21 And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ 22 Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ 23 He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.
24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, ‘Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’
26 John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’ 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.”
We come to the Third Sunday of Advent and are already in the middle of this liturgical season. This Sunday is called ‘Gaudete’ or ‘Joyful Sunday’ because we are more than halfway through the Season of Advent. The first two readings of the liturgy speak about joy and happiness in the Lord who is the Light, the Saviour, the Messiah. This Lord is the one we are about to celebrate in his first coming into human history at Bethlehem.
We have again the great figure of John the Baptist as the central figure in the liturgy of this Sunday. John the Baptist, as we know, was a prophetic voice. The voice of prophecy had been silent in Israel for over four hundred years. When John the Baptist appeared people were fascinated by his message and by the passionate way in which he spoke. John the Baptist definitely helps us on our way towards the Christmas event.
The key word of the Gospel of this Sunday and indeed of the whole Gospel of John the Evangelist, is ‘witness’; in fact, the word appears fourteen times.
The word ‘witness’ in the Gospel of John
The writer of the Fourth Gospel was aware of the ‘popularity’ of John the Baptist and how people had flocked to listen to him and be baptised in the River Jordan. Due to some people taking John the Baptist for the Messiah, Saint John presents witness after witness, who attest to the divinity of Christ.
· The witness of the Father.
What did Jesus mean by this? Jesus was conscious of his inner communion with the
Father and for this reason he was speaking with authority and people were
impressed by him.
· There is also the witness of Jesus himself.
As the Son of God, Jesus was his own best witness: as the Light, the Life, the Truth
and the Way.
· The witness of His works.
John the Evangelist is not only speaking of the miracles of Jesus but is referring to
the whole of Jesus’ life. No one could have accomplished what He did unless He was
closer to God than anyone else.
· There is the witness of the Scriptures.
Jesus invites His listeners to search the Scriptures to discover how they are speaking
It is Philip's conviction that: “… he has found him of whom Moses and the Law and
the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth …”
The Testimony of John the Baptist
Pope Francis describes in three verbs the spiritual experience of John the Baptist, who came before Jesus preaching a baptism of conversion. These verbs are: to prepare, to discern and to withdraw.
John’s first vocation was to prepare for the Messiah. He was an important figure in the society of his day and people followed him. His words were like a sharp sword, according to the expression of Isaiah. Nonetheless he was only a voice, the voice that cries in the wilderness: Make straight the way for the Lord. His first task was to prepare the hearts of people to encounter the Lord.
John’s second vocation was to discern who the Messiah actually was among so many different candidates. He therefore had to have the courage to say: ‘There is the Lamb of God that takes the sin of the world’ (John 1:29) and ‘he is coming after me’. ‘This is the one … who was before’ (John 1:15).
John’s third vocation was to withdraw after the appearance of the Lord at the Jordan, John withdraws to the point allowing himself to be taken prisoner and locked away by Herod Antipas. He suffers not only the darkness of the cell, but the darkness of the soul as well … doubting at one point whether Jesus is the Messiah, or whether he had made a mistake. Yet, in the final analysis John does not give in to such doubts and recognizes Jesus as the One whom the Scriptures had foretold.
Pope Francis presents John the Baptist as the model of the Christian vocation. We proclaim Another and we prepare the path for Another: The Lord.
We should learn how to discern the truth from what may resemble it. We must be people of discernment. We should also be people who are ready to give the precedence to Jesus the Lord of our lives.
John the Baptist and the Fourth Gospel are undoubtedly helping us to look ahead to the Birth of Jesus with joy and with confidence, knowing that the Lord wants to find a home in each one of us.
Slow me down, Lord! Ease the pounding of my heart By the quieting of my mind. Steady my harried pace With a vision of the eternal reach of time. Give me, Amidst the confusions of my day, The calmness of the everlasting hills. Break the tensions of my nerves With the soothing music Of the singing streams That live in my memory. Help me to know The magical power of sleep, Teach me the art Of taking minute vacations Of slowing down To look at a flower; To chat with an old friend Or make a new one; To pet a dog; To watch a spider build a web; To smile at a child; Or to read a few lines from a good book. Remind me each day That the race is not always won by the swift; That there is more to life Than increasing its speed. Let me look upward Into the branches of the towering oak And know that it grew great and strong Because it grew slowly and well. Slow me down, Lord, And inspire me to send my roots deep Into the soil of life's enduring values That I may grow toward the stars Of our greater destiny.
Written by Orin L. Crain
“We cannot achieve greatness unless we lose all interest in being great”. Thomas Merton
The search for God does not lead us to the greatest of cities. The Advent star leads the Magi to an insignificant village at the back of beyond.
To reach Christ we too need to be closer to the Baptist.
John the Baptist knows the real value of his own self, measured against the greater person of Jesus. Of him, Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11).
“Humility is not an innate trait, it has to be learnt. Many mistake humility for weakness. Humility is a great ‘heart opener’ as it is hard to refuse anything to a truly humble heart. We are humble before God who hears our prayers. If we do not speak with humility, we risk to threaten, intimidate, harass and badger others to do what we want. What we need is a humble heart and a smile on our face.”
Today we contemplate the humility of God.
 John 5:37: “Jesus said: The Father who sent me has himself borne witness to me". John 8:18: "The Father who sent me bears witness to me".  John 8:18: “‘I bear witness,’ he said, ‘to myself’”. John 8:14: "Even if I do bear witness to myself," “… He said, "my testimony is true".  John 5:36: "… For the works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing bear me witness…" John 10:25: "The works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness to me." John 14:11: “Jesus said to Philip: … or else Believe me for the sake of the works themselves."  John 5:39: “…it is they that bear witness to me." John 5:46: "If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me".  John 1:45.  Isaiah 49:2: “He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away.”  Philippians 2:5-11: “Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped at, but He emptied himself taking the form of a slave …”