HOMILY ON THE BIRTH OF ST JOHN THE BAPTIST
- JOHN THE BAPTIST: AN EXAMPLE OF A TRUE WITNESS
PREAMBLE: The feast day of most Saints are celebrated on the days of their exit from this life which is considered as their birth into the kingdom of God. But there are three great people whose coming into this life and their exit from it are both celebrated in the catholic liturgy; they are: John the Baptist whose solemnity we celebrate today 24th day of June. (We can remember that exactly three months ago we celebrated the feast of the annunciation of the Lord which was on March 25th and in six months today we shall celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Dec. 25th) Others include the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Sept. 8th, and of course the birth of Christ on Dec. 25th. John the Baptist is the son of promised who was born to Zachariah and Elizabeth at the time they had lost all hope of child bearing due to their old age. He was the forerunner of Jesus Christ, the messiah. He was the first to acknowledge Jesus as the messiah by adoring Him even while both were still at their mothers’ wombs and continued to proclaim Him throughout his life.
Isaiah’s statement in today’s first reading, ‘(…the Lord called me before I was born, He pronounced my name in my mother’s womb, He made my mouth a sharp sword)’ fits St. John the Baptist whose solemnity we are celebrating. The Lord actually called him before he was born as we can see in angel Gabriel’s message to Zachariah, “…Your wife Elizabeth will conceive and bear a child and you shall call him John…” (Lk. 1: 13). His mouth was made a sharp sword which actually made him to tell Herod to his face, the bitter truth, that it was not lawful for him to marry his brother’s wife (Mk. 6:18; Mtt. 14:4), a statement that cost him his life.
JOHN: AN ELOQUENT PREACHER AND A PERFECT WITNESS: Before Jesus ascended into heaven, the promise he made to His disciples was, “you shall be my witnesses” and he added, “not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judea, and Samaria and indeed to the remotest part of the word” (Act. 1:8). They did not understand it at that time, although each of them later bore eloquent witness to Him by shedding their blood in defense of the gospel. A witness is one who preaches, not only by the words of mouth but one who also exemplifies or demonstrates his verbal preaching by his style of life.
It is very easy to be a preacher but very difficult to be a witness even though strictly speaking, the two, if properly understood, could be said to be inseparable. But unlike St. John the Baptist and the ancient preachers who saw preaching as witnessing, preachers of today are not witnesses. A witness is one who preaches Jesus to the people and by so doing takes the people to Jesus without necessarily attracting attention to themselves. A witness is one who is ready to die defending Christ whom he convincingly believes and preaches.
John bore perfect witness to Christ from the time of his birth to death. In the womb he already recognized and adored the infant messiah, who also was in His own mother’s womb. We may say that by that encounter he received the sacrament of baptism and was divinely commissioned to go and continue bearing witness to him.
JOHN: AN ELOQUENT PREACHER AND A PERFECT WITNESS: In his preaching, John did not blow both hot and cold. He preached the gospel of truth even when it was not convenient to the people. Like Christ he was calling the people to repentance. People of different professions were going to him seeking baptism. After hearing his life-changing sermon they were asking ‘what shall we do?’ He would tell the tax collectors to stop charging people beyond what the law stipulated and the soldiers to stop intimidating the people. Although he knew the likely consequence of his counsel, he boldly told Herod that it was not lawful to marry his brother’s wife and paid the price.
JOHN: A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF HUMILITY: John the Baptist is a perfect example the humility taught by Christ. He manifested this virtue in many passages of the scripture eg. When Christ came to him to be baptized, in humility John declined, saying that it was himself who should be baptized by Christ. But when Christ permitted him to do his duty, he did not insist on his opinion but in humble obedience, he had Christ baptized (Mtt. 3:13-15). Again, when it was reported to him that the man he bore witness to (referring to Jesus) was baptizing and that everybody was leaving him to follow Christ, all he said was ‘…He will increase and I will decrease (Jn. 3:25 – 30). When he was asked if he was the expected messiah, he said publicly that he was not and that there was another coming after him who ranked before him and whose sandal strips he was unworthy to untie.
JOHN A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF THE EVANGELICAL COUNSELS: John was a perfect example of the evangelical counsels of Poverty, Chastity (Celibacy) and Obedience. He practiced strictly, the evangelical counsel of voluntary poverty that he had to leave the comfort of his father’s house to live in the desert among wild animals, from the desert he was sent to prison and from prison he was sent to his eternal home by Herod through martyrdom. Throughout his life, he lived on wild honey and locus; having no cloth but the skin of the camel, (Mk 1:6; Matt.3:4). St. John sacrificed the pleasure of marrying a wife and raising up children who would take after him in spite of the fact he was an only child. He was an example of perfect celibate. Finally, St. John the Baptist was an example of perfect obedience to the will of God. Though he was lived not under any human person, he obeyed his divine master willingly and perfectly, a reason why he declared the truth which cost his life, even when it was seemingly against his own human will.
In our world today when preachers set out to preach Christ but succeed in preaching themselves, when preachers instead of directing people to Christ, project themselves as the messiah to be searched for, when the only eloquent gospel people preach is ‘the gospel of prosperity, the personality of John the Baptist challenges us to turn round, preaching the unadulterated gospel of truth not for sordid material gain but solely for the sake of Christ who sends us. Like St. John the Baptist, we should be humble yet fearless proclaiming and defending our holy faith, even to the point of death. Today some countries have passed into law some those things the scripture condemned as abominable evil, such as: abortion, incest, adultery, homosexuality and what is more some are beginning to force the catholic priests to divulge the confessional secrecy. All these happen because Christians, being afraid to lose their jobs, being persecuted or even to die, maintain mischievous silence. The life of St. John the Baptist challenges us to stand up boldly and courageously and condemn it. As true witnesses we are expected to be the conscience of our environments. We should be very bold in defending our holy faith, considering ourselves privileged to be considered worthy to suffer for the Good News.
- JOHN THE BAPTIST, PRAY FOR US.