Saint John the Baptist,
Painting by Pierre Mignard (1612-1695),
Painted in 1688,
Oil on canvas
© Prado Museum, Madrid
Look: there is the Lamb of God
Seeing Jesus coming towards him, John said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. This is the one I spoke of when I said: A man is coming after me who ranks before me because he existed before me. I did not know him myself, and yet it was to reveal him to Israel that I came baptising with water.’ John also declared, ‘I saw the Spirit coming down on him from heaven like a dove and resting on him. I did not know him myself, but he who sent me to baptise with water had said to me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is going to baptise with the Holy Spirit.” Yes, I have seen and I am the witness that he is the Chosen One of God.’
Reflection on the painting
Our painting by Pierre Mignard depicts a young John the Baptist. He wears a red lined animal skin and sits on a rock from which water flows. A grazing lamb is beside him. In his right hand he holds a staff with the banner reading the Latin words of our Gospel reading “Ecce Agnus Dei” ('Look: there is the Lamb of God'). Mignard is primarily known for being an accomplished portraitist. And we can tell that the face of John is of higher quality than the rest of the painting. Also the texture of the lamb’s wool and the cloak are well rendered and detailed.
Our Gospel reading portrays John the Baptist as pointing away from himself towards Jesus. Even though John was clearly a very impressive figure, with people flocking to him from all over and submitting to his rite of baptism of repentance, John did not take any credit. The minute he saw Jesus walk towards him, he saw his role as directing people away from himself towards Jesus. His sense of duty and mission went so far that he even directed his own disciples to Jesus, encouraging them to become disciples of Jesus instead. What powerful humility John had.
Even though we are surrounded by a culture that tells us ‘look at me’ and ‘look at what I’ve achieved’, today's reading can be a call for us to hear John’s words and always point towards Jesus whenever we can.
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