My Dear Parishioners,
In every American courtroom, from traffic court to the Supreme Court, the role of a witness is of primary importance. Investigation and scrutiny of each witness’ words and gestures can add to the drama of the courtroom. The innocence or guilt of the person on trial can hang in the balance of what a witness says. They are asked to swear to the truth by placing their hand on a Bible and invoking God’s name to bear witness to the truth.
In John’s time, the word “witness” signified one who gave testimony to the truth, often at the expense of one’s life. To give witness to someone or something was a very serious matter. The laws from Deuteronomy required that at an execution, the witnesses were to be the first to raise their hands against the criminal. Anyone who gave false witness was condemned to
suffer the same fate as the accused would have suffered (cf. Deuteronomy 17:7 and 19:19).
In today’s Gospel, we hear John’s testimony. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, he proclaims with conviction that Jesus is the Lamb of God and God’s Chosen One. This is not the first time John has acknowledged Jesus as Lord. In the Gospel of Luke (1:41) John leapt in his mother Elizabeth’s womb at her greeting of Mary. It was then that Elizabeth, too, was filled with the Holy Spirit and knew Mary to be the mother of the Lord. It was through the workings of the Holy Spirit that they were able to know and acknowledge the divine nature of Jesus.
John the Baptist ultimately fulfilled the definition of witness when he spoke against Herod, who was living with his own brother’s wife. When John spoke the truth to Herod, he was imprisoned and beheaded, thus silencing his witness against Herod forever. Most of the apostles were led to the ultimate destiny of those who witness to the truth when the truth does not want to be heard by those in power. Traditionally, we believe that all the apostles except John were martyred because of the testimony they gave to Jesus’ resurrection, ascension, and anticipated return.
Of course, we must ask ourselves the questions: How well are we doing as Christ’s witnesses? Do we seek the truth in order to understand and speak it? Do we pray to have knowledge of God’s way and the courage to live it out day-to-day? Do we invoke the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom when we have the opportunity to witness to the power of God in our lives? We can each be a living witness today, tomorrow, next week. It is the same Spirit who enlightened John who now enlightens us. It is the same Spirit he received who comes to us in Baptism and Confirmation. It is the same Spirit who enabled John to face death, who will also enable us to face whatever resistance may come our way. With the Baptist, we, too, declare, Jesus Christ is Lord!
God Bless, Msgr. Maresca