“Who is the liar? Whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ” (1 Jn 2:22). People don’t normally stop us on the street and ask us to confirm or deny whether Jesus is the Christ. But the true discernment that the first letter of John invites us to is not primarily one regarding propositional statements. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21). What, then, does it mean to affirm through our lives that Jesus is the Christ? This is a deeper discernment, one which is especially pressing in our own day, as Pope Francis reminds us.
We cannot affirm that Jesus is the Christ unless we first recognize that we are not the Christ ourselves: in other words, we need to be able to affirm that we need the Anointed One to save us. This may be easy enough when we can plainly see that we cannot save ourselves from the brokenness of our fallen condition, but when it seems to us that things are going well, we can delude ourselves into thinking that we are “God’s gift to the world.” As Christians, though, we should confess that we are nothing except in Jesus Christ, even if in and through Christ we can have some share in his mission such that we can become “all things to all people” (1 Cor 9:22).
John the Baptist, the greatest of the prophets (cf. Mt 11:9-11), has the privilege of living a life that prepares the way for Christ and points to Christ. If John were not so rooted in the life God offers him, he could easily fall into patterns of thought or action which would implicitly affirm that he himself is some sort of Christ or savior figure. But, obedient to the spirit given him, John confesses in thought and intention, in word and action that he is not the Christ (Jn 1:19-28). Only thereby is John enabled to become a free-flowing channel that passes on to others the fullness of the grace that he receives. He is but a voice for the one crying out in the desert (cf. Jn 1:23). He does decrease so that Christ might increase (cf. Jn 3:30). If we are Christians, we should endeavor to do the same, through God’s grace.