During one of my visits to a prison, I came across one young man who was serving a life sentence for a murder case he swore that he did not commit. According to him, he got a distress call from the wife of his closest friend to come to their house as quickly as he could. On reaching the house, he saw his friend struggling in a pool of blood and his wife crying while holding a zombie killer knife. He sensed they were having an argument and he begged the woman to give him the knife, and she did and ran away.
After some minutes, the woman returned with the police and the young man was arrested. He was charged to court and this woman gave a witness that the man killed her husband while they were having an argument. The ill-fated prisoner confirms to me that the lady’s false witness earned him life imprisonment.
Witnessing is a facility that runs through almost every aspect of life. Often in life, it takes a voice, a witness, a reference for us to move from where we are to where we ought to be and vice versa. Have you considered why organizations and institutions demand references (referees) for almost all applications? Those are voices beyond your voice. People who can attest to what you claim to be and open the way to your success. Often your success depends on who testifies about you. This idea is right in our reception of most of the sacraments were we need witnesses often nicknamed sponsors like in Baptism, Confirmation, and Matrimony.
God understands the centrality of witnessing and that explains why he grouped it among the ten commandments (Exo 20:16): “Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” There are three aspects of witnessing:
- To experience, something as it happens or being part of it.
- To give evidence or testimony to favor or disfavor someone like in our opening story.
- To make an open declaration about someone or something. For instance, declaring one’s faith. We shall see John the Baptist doing all these in the Gospel today.
The relationship between our Lord Jesus Christ and John the Baptist is not what we can summarize with few words; in fact, we can use the word “complicated” to describe it. Though they were cousins, they seem to have a more spiritual connection than biological. Their first “virtual” meeting was when they were in their respective mother’s wombs; John the Baptist had to leap inside his mother’s womb when he heard the greeting of Mary (Luke 1: 41; 44 ). John begins his ministry by presenting the profile of our Lord Jesus Christ as the one who is mightier than him and whose sandals he has no capacity to untie. He did not give these details as one would do to a relation; for instance, he could have added “he is also my cousin.”
At another time, John sent some of his disciples to ask our Lord if he is the messiah or if they should wait for another (Luke 7:18-20). John could not understand how the Messiah could be so simple, unassuming, and even vulnerable. Today, we find John witnessing publicly to Christ after baptizing him in the Jordan. John was not ashamed of making a public recommendation even at the cost of losing some of his disciples (John 1:35-37). We can identify three important points in John the Baptist’s witnessing:
- The lamb of God takes away the SIN of the world. By this declaration, John the Baptist identifies our Lord as the only remedy to the ultimate sin; the original sin. This proclamation means that we have no other source of expiation of sin apart from the lamb that was slain.
- The lamb ranked after John the Baptist and existed before him. John confirms that he did not know him and that he is baptizing to make him known to Israel. This statement tells us that his knowledge of Jesus Christ is more of spiritual knowledge than experience based knowledge. We are not expected to have a physical knowledge about him, but we are required to bear witness to him through the on-going spiritual encounter we are having with him in the word of God and the sacraments. John further made it clear that his reason for coming was basically to bear witness to Jesus Christ. We see this clearly in the Gospel of John (1: 8) where we learn that John was not the light, but he came to bear witness to the light.”
- He is the one upon whom the Spirit descends. He is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist did not miss words to indicate that he has seen and testified that he is the Son of God. John the Baptist identified the source of the power; namely the Holy Spirit. The coming of the Holy Spirit like on the day of Pentecost (Act 2:1-4) brings about a new kind of baptism.
Witnessing is at the core of our Christian vocation. Our Lord Jesus Christ assured the post-resurrection apostles that they would become witnesses after their confirmation by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). This declaration takes place after the Pentecost experience (Acts. 2:23; 3:15). In his First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor.15:3-8), St. Paul enumerated the witnesses to the resurrection which included him. The apostle John (1 John 5:8) mentioned that there three witnesses to the message of Christ that agree; the Spirit, Water, and Blood.
In one of his instructions (Matt. 10:32-33), our Lord Jesus Christ mentioned that whoever declares (witnesses) to him in the presence of men would receive his recommendation before his heavenly Father but whoever denies him before men would receive his condemnation before his heavenly Father.
By our vocation as Christians, we are called to be witnesses. In the ending verse of the First Reading (Isaiah 49:3, 5-6), Isaiah declares that God will make you a light to the nations. Being a light to the nations is a strategic invitation to become a witness. The duty of light is primarily to dispel darkness. This illumination is crucial in our world today that is progressively struggling under many frameworks of darkness.
We become the light of the world when we bear witness to Christ in words and deeds; that means our words must reflect our actions. We become the light of the world by our conscious efforts to swim against the currents in our world that tossed about by the raging storms of sin and disobedience in various modern forms and shapes.
Our witnessing should start from our different families.Often we forget the age-long phrase that says that “charity begins at home” (see 1 Tim. 5:8). We start witnessing in our families when we can forgive the hurts from our mothers, fathers, brothers, sister, husband and wife. We become witnesses in our families when we allow love to lead. In fact, if we cannot witness effectively in our families it will be preposterous to do so outside our families.
We shall end this reflection by consciously adding WITNESS to our individual names and let it not be just a name but an attitude. Have a graceful Sunday and a blessed week ahead.