There are some people we do not know their names nor where they come from; but we can identify them from what they do. This fits into an incidence that took place some time ago. I was driving home after a hectic day when I saw a woman with about three kids (all girls) being severely beaten by a man who would not stop in spite of pleas from some passive passers-by. Seeing this sight of the wailing woman and her little kids, I was passionately touched and I quickly stopped and went to her rescue.
On reaching the “battleground” I recognized the woman as one who would always clean the pews and dust the windows in the Church before mass or some other times when people are not in the Church. I didn’t know her name nor where she came from but I could identify with her dedication in cleaning the house of God. I tried to rescue her from the man whom I later learnt was her (estranged) husband. The man had a lot of accusations against her ranging from theft to infidelity; the woman who was defenceless and vulnerable could not even say a word to prove her innocence. Based on my “church knowledge” about her I made a supportive intervention.
The man wanted to tell me how evil the woman was and why she should be maimed and killed when I quickly gave a testimony about the woman and her dedication in the Church. With this intervention which touched many, the man turned fiercely against me and began to accuse me as the man having an affair with the woman and even attempted to attack me physically. His statement made me more desirous to rescue the woman as I came to the conclusion that he was generating lies against the woman. I eventually succeeded (after a physical struggle) in getting the woman and her little kids into my car and drove them to some security agents for proper legal actions. It was during the ride to the security operatives that the woman told me that the man drove her out from his house for not giving birth to a male child and that was after impregnating another lady. She also attested to his ardent addiction to hard drugs and I was not surprised at all.
The woman in my story was essentially saved on account of the witness I bore on her behalf or if you like my testimony about her. A witness is someone who has, who claims to have, or is thought, by someone with authority to compel testimony, to have knowledge relevant to an event or other matter of interest. It is so instructive to note that the Greek root for witness is “μάρτυς” (martus) which when rendered into English is “martyr”. Here it means someone who suffers persecution or death for advocating for another. In both the Hebrew and Greek background to be a witness is a very SERIOUS affair (be it legal, religious or otherwise) because it comes with consequences; it is the same as sticking out one’s neck for another whereby the witness suffers the same fate as the victim!
Today in the gospel reading (John 1: 29-34), we encounter John the Baptist giving an attestation, a testimony or if you like witnessing to the person and mission of our Lord Jesus Christ. It seemed to have taken place in a passionate post baptism sermon. Last week we experienced the baptism of Jesus Christ by John which also marked the baptism of John by his desire to be baptised in the water which our Lord himself sanctified. Now in retrospect the whole episode seems to be coming back to John in a more transforming and revealing way when the next day he saw our Lord Jesus Christ. It will be very expedient for us to look closely at the content of John’s witnessing:
- Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the SIN of the world: Here John identified and testified that our Lord Jesus Christ is the only innocent victim whose blood is capable of wiping off the SIN not SINS of the world. Here, he was referring to the SIN of Adam and Eve; the original sin of disobedience that severed us from God. By this statement John made it clear that we have only one source of redemption and here he is the Lamb of God; Jesus Christ.
- This is he of whom I said after me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me I myself did not know him, but for this I came baptising with water that he may be revealed to Israel: John the Baptist was humble and unassuming in his witness. He identified our Lord Jesus Christ as coming after him but at the same time being before him. He did not know him but still speaks about him. This actually tells us that his knowledge about Jesus Christ was more of revealed knowledge than physical knowledge. The same way as we do not have a physical knowledge about him but we are expected to bear witness to him through what has been revealed to us through his words. John further made it clear that his reason for coming was basically to bear witness to Jesus. We see this clearly in John (1: 8):” He (John) was not the light but he came to bear witness to the light”.
- I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven and remain on him….He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptises with the Holy Spirit. And I have SEEN and have BORNE WITNESS that this is the Son of God: John’s witness was not a manipulated one; it was not false. He was sure of the source and authenticity of his knowledge. In his testimony he saw the Spirit descend like a dove from heaven (not from any other place). The same event that took place during the baptism of the Lord and which will also take place on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). Note that the Spirit descended and remained; one character of God is immanence (apart from his transcendence). John was sure of his testimony and so he stood to say: “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God”.
Beyond John the Baptist who fulfilled the ultimate level of witnessing by losing his life, every Christian is by vocation a witness not a weakness. Witnessing from the Christian viewpoint has to do with sharing the good news with others either by words or by deeds. Before his ascension our Lord Jesus Christ said:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Act 1:8)
During his speech immediately after the descent of the Holy Spirit and after the healing of the lame man at the beautiful gate, Peter proclaiming the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ identified himself and other apostles and witnesses (Acts. 2:23; 3:15). Writing his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor.15:3-8) St. Paul enumerated the witnesses to the death, resurrection and appearing of the Lord which also included him. In a related letter, he admonished the Colossians to allow their conducts witness to the good news of Christ (Col. 4:5-6). All these confirms the ending instructions of our Lord Jesus Christ in the gospel of Luke (24:45-48).
It is really very unfortunate that in our day and age there is so much WEAKNESSING than WITNESSING to Jesus Christ. We become “weaknesses” to Christ when we fail to live up to our Christian vocation. We become weaknesses to Christ when we relapse into sin and disobedience, we become weaknesses to Christ when we fail to uphold him in the world (Matt. 10:33), We becomes weaknesses when we put ourselves and what concerns us first before God unlike John the Baptist who was humble and unassuming to identify and uphold Jesus Christ. We become weaknesses when we lead people away from Jesus Christ instead of bringing them to him. We become weaknesses when we fail to be the Light of the Nations as Isaiah proclaimed in the first reading (Isaiah 49:6) and become darkness for the people. We become weaknesses when we do not pay attention to the call to sainthood as exemplified by St. Paul in the second reading (1 Cor.1:1-13) and enter into “sinhood”. We become weaknesses when we proclaim lies, defend the wicked and evil. We become weaknesses when we allow ourselves to be used promote the kingdom of devil instead of the kingdom of God.
Today, there is a clarion call on all of us to activate and radiate our witnessing to Jesus Christ. In fact there could have been no Christianity without witnessing. The knowledge we have of God today came through the active witnessing of our fore fathers in faith through their lives and deeds that are recorded in the scriptures. It thus remains to say that the work of evangelisation is indispensable way of witnessing to Jesus Christ. Pope Francis 1 made this very clear in his latest Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel no.120) when he said:
Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time and lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.
As we march into a new week, let us be attentive to the call to become witnesses to Christ and not weaknesses so that we can bring about a dependable and lasting transformation in our world just as our Lord Jesus Christ commanded in Matthew (28:19). Have a blissful Sunday and a blessed week ahead!