First Reading: Is 61:1-2a. 10-11; Psalm: Lk 1. R. v. Is 61:10b; Second Reading: 1 Thes 5:16-24; Gospel: Jn 1:6-8. 19-28
A TRUE WITNESS
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
Let’s go to the courtroom.
It is patent that the courtroom is a very nervy place to be especially on this third Sunday of advent when the Church relaxes the penitential mood of advent to rejoice midway to the birth of the child Christ. But permit me today to mentally take you to the courtroom and to play the script of what happens therein. If you had ever stood by the witness box in a courtroom, I bet that you must have sworn one of the most common customary oaths that most witnesses do not mean in a law court. Placing our hands on the Holy Bible, we say; “I swear by Almighty God that I will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So help me God.”
Before anyone takes this oath or an affirmation in a law court, the person must be a certified witness to the legal proceedings. A witness is required to have a personal or direct bearing to the case at hand; and is bound by oath not to withhold any relevant information. But unfortunately, not all witnesses are true witnesses in a law court as the truth is often compromised by inducement or affiliation influence.
Today’s gospel presents to us a true witness – John the Baptist. “He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him.” (Jn 1:7). John’s knowledge of Jesus as the Christ is not based on experience but on revelation. The Spirit already hinted on this at Mary’s visitation. Mary was with the child Christ when she visited Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard her greetings, she was filled with the Holy Spirit and the child in her womb leaped for joy. (Lk 1:44). Could John have see Jesus before his appearing at the Jordan? Probably. They are cousins. But did he know Jesus is the Christ? This only will be revealed to John.
John said; “I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.’” John’s knowledge of Jesus is divinely revealed. So, John’s testimony of Jesus as the Christ is pristine and true.
When the priests and the Levites came to John; John understood their suspicion. The influence of John on the people and the massive response of the crowd could only suggest three things. It is either John is the Messiah, Elijah or a prophet. In the Jewish history, only these three could match the profile of John. So, the question to John – “Who are you?” was not of personal identity but of vocational identity. This explains the answer of John. He did not say “I am John, the son of Zachariah;” rather he said; “I am not the Christ.” And to further confirm his suspicion, they asked; “Are you Elijah?” “Are you the prophet?” And John answered; “I am not.”
Although John is not the Christ; but he is the precursor of Christ (Jn 3:28). Although John is not Elijah by identity; but he is Elijah by archetype (Mt 11:14). Although John is not a prophet like the great prophet Moses of old (Dt 18:18); but he is the eschatological prophet of the New Testament who appeared to prepare the way for the Lord’s coming. John is not by anyway denying his great admirable qualities; but he is only consciously playing his role as a mere witness and nothing more. His mission is not about himself or the great qualities he possesses. His mission is about Christ and only Christ.
And when they pressed further with the question; “What do you say about yourself?” John replied; “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” John’s identification of himself as ‘a voice’ puts him in a very insignificant position and accentuates all the more his message on preparing the Lord’s way. Furthermore, John revealed the greatness of Christ when he acknowledged that he is unworthy to untie the thong of Christ’s sandal. What could be more revealing to tell the priests and Levites that he (John) whom they placed on par with Elijah and the prophet Moses is so unworthy to untie the thong of Christ’s sandal? Untying a sandal is the duty of a slave. So, John is saying that he is not even worthy to be the slave of Christ.
Every third Sunday of advent is called the Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday. It comes with the ritual of lighting the advent pink candle; the candle of joy. The third Sunday of advent lights up the advent mood with the feeling of joy to remind us of the imminent joyful celebration of the birth of the child Christ. The full realisation of this joy is contingent on true witnessing. And John the Baptist remains our perfect model. Who then is a true witness?
A true witness is not ignorant of the one he witnesses to. John’s knowledge of Jesus as the Christ was adequate enough to speak of Christ. So, there was no error in his witnessing. No one has a complete knowledge of Christ. But every true Christian ought to know Christ to the extent that we are able to typify his life and examples. The degree to which we know Christ is measured by our love quotient.
A true witness is a voice. Not a silent voice; but a voice that cries out in the wilderness of dearth. We cannot relish the joy of Christmas amidst the scarcity of core Christian values. Our love and compassion must cry out but pacified by humility. The voice of justice must be heard. The desire for generosity should prevail. The healing of forgiveness should be felt. And the sign of hope should be seen. These values must be very much alive in us to be heard and seen by those around us. We become a voice that cries out in the wilderness when we remove the obstacles in the lives of our neighbours; making straight the path for the child Christ to bring joy into their lives at Christmas.
A true witness does not blow his/her trumpet. John knew he was famous and important. John saw his qualities and the impact he made on the people. But John never eulogised himself. Humility must pacify our ego. This coming Christmas, let us not forget that every act of charity is essentially for the good and happiness of the beneficiary. The dignity of charity lies in secrecy. So for every act of charity, do not go about announcing it to people. It insults the dignity of the person helped. No one chooses or desires to be in need. It is not a good experience. So don’t make the situation worse. Don’t take away the joy you bring to the lives of people. “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (Mt 6:3).
A true witness must recognise and revere the supremacy of Christ. John was so powerful and prominent; yet he recognised his low status before Christ. John admitted that he is not even worthy to be the slave of Christ. This spirit of reverence and holy fear is gradually diminished today by our lack of reverence for holy things. We must be conscious of our unworthiness to the many gifts we receive from Christ through grace. In particular are the sacraments of the Church. In this third Sunday of advent, let us rekindle our reverence for the Eucharist. Let us stop the abuse and mean the words we say; “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
The joy of today is contingent on witnessing to Christ. There is no joy in failed witnessing. But there is fulfilment in true witnessing. The world today is our witness box. The gospel of Christ is on trial. And the victory of the gospel over our adversaries depends on how faithful and committed we are to witnessing to Christ who is the Light. So, as we stand on the witness box; let’s not forget that the verdict depends on our witnessing.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, we beg pardon for the many times we failed to witness to the gospel. Grant us the grace to be true witnesses that our joy may be complete in you. Amen.