I did not know him (Jn 1:30)
Kind of an odd thing for John to say of Jesus. He was his cousin, and one would presume he knew Jesus quite well. Even if they lived in different towns, it was common for larger family gatherings to occur, as well as pilgrimages to Jerusalem.
It seems likely that John did know Jesus, yet he says he did not know him.
And thus we likely have here a declaration that refers to a deeper appreciation of Jesus, that John, by a work of the Holy Spirit, has come to know Jesus more deeply. St. Paul says something similar:
Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. (2 Cor 5:16)
Thus seeing Jesus in a mere fleshly way must give way to a deeper seeing, according to the Spirit. Jesus is no mere man, he is the Lord. Mary Magdalene made a similar transition when she ran to the Apostles after the Resurrection and said, “I have seen the Lord.” St. John says it too when he declares from the boat, seeing Jesus on the shore after the resurrection: “It is the Lord!”
Seeing and experiencing the Lord more deeply is an on-going work of the Spirit. And even as we do this with the Lord, in a lesser but still important way we are called to do so with and for the people we love. We are called to appreciate more deeply the mystery and dignity of their lives.
I have had to make this journey with people I love. I think especially of my only sister, Mary Anne.
Over twenty years ago she died at the age of thirty. Mary Anne was very debilitated with mental illness. From about the time she was 13, she was in a dozen different mental hospitals and four or five different group homes. She could be very sweet one moment, and then quite violent the next. She heard voices and was diagnosed with a very serious form of schizophrenia.
I struggled about how to deal with my sister. I didn’t really know what to say or do, and, to be honest she troubled me.
In 1991 Mary Anne died in a fire; a fire she likely started according to the investigators. That was also one of the tendencies she had manifest several times before. She was also a smoker, and that may have contributed to it.
At her death, the funeral director made her as presentable as possible given that she had died in a fire. And while he recommended we have a closed casket for the public he thought we could view her body.
For me it was an astonishing and eye-opening moment. As I looked upon her, I could see that she had died weeping. The funeral director explained that her face was very delicate from the fire and could not be “adjusted.” I’ll never forget the look of her face. I saw her pain, her grief, her suffering. I wept. I saw too her dignity, and I regretted very deeply that it took her death for me to see it.
I prayed that day I would learn to others more deeply, appreciate their dignity and understand their pain with greater compassion. I will not say I have done so perfectly, but I have tried, especially with those with whom I am closest.
There is a depth to every human person, and a dignity we are called to see. As St. Paul says, we are no longer to regard others in a merely human or fleshly way. We are to see increasingly with the eyes of God.
An old spiritual says, “Nobody knows the trouble I seen, nobody but Jesus. An while we can never see as Jesus sees, if we grow in union with him we will see more as he sees.
St. John said, “I did not know him.” But of course he did come to know him far more deeply. And so must we know Christ more deeply, and in Christ, know one another more deeply.