Being on a "Need-to-Know" Basis
Before ordination to the priesthood, I served full time as a deacon in Saint Agnes Cathedral parish. At that time, were had a full eighteen-month internship before our first priesthood assignment. All of my classmates assumed, because I lived with the bishop (at that time Bishop McGann), that I would have insider's knowledge of where we all going to be assigned as priests. I quickly found out how wrong my classmates were. The morning after the personnel board meeting at which the assignments were made for the newly ordained, I kept asking the bishop if he would tell me where I was being sent. After two or three times of ignoring the question, Bishop McGann looked up at me over his reading glasses and said, "At your ordination, you promised me obedience and respect." That ended that conversation in short order.
I guess I don't like to be on a "need to know" basis because I discover that, for the most part, people who are in the know have already decided that, in fact, I don't need to know. Knowing what lies ahead can give us the ability to prepare for the outcome and even alleviate fear or anxiety -- or so we think. Yet, as look back on the assignment that I did receive when I was first ordained, knowing about it ahead of time would not have prepared me for anything. It would have only created more anxiety about an outcome that I could not change. So, maybe it is better to be on a "need to know" basis.
In today's gospel, John is giving testimony about the baptism of Jesus. Repeatedly in his recounting what took place, John says, "I did not know him." That affirmation seems rather strange coming from the mouth of the Baptist -- after all, weren't John and Jesus somehow related? Why shouldn't John have known ahead of time that his very relative would be the promised one, the one who would come to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire? Why did John, of all people, need to be kept in the dark about all of this?
I guess John was placed by God on a "need-to-know" basis. All John needed to know is that the person upon whom the Holy Spirit would come down would be the One. Were John to have been given the entire blueprint as to how the salvation of the world would enfold and the importance of his role, there would be little need on John's part to become attentive to the Spirit. Putting John on a "need to know" basis was God's way of keeping him as a fully engaged participant in the events that would unfold.
God so desires that we too be actively engaged in the unfolding of his plan, and so, for God, it is so important that we not know everything -- that we trust, and with open heart and expectant spirit, await what he is to accomplish in us and for us. Yes, Lord, I do not need to know everything -- all I need is to trust that everything is in your loving hands.