The Gospel reading this weekend centres again on the compelling of John the Baptist. As usual, John had quite a crowd gathered about him, and when he saw Christ coming towards him John publicly acknowledged him as the Messiah and named himself as his witness.
That word is really quite a complex one. To be a witness means that a person has learned something. He has come into contact with a truth. He has seen it or heard it or been told of it.
But the witness is not just a learner. The witness is one who gives public testimony to the truth of what has been learned, and a third element is that the witness must do so persistently. And when that truth is opposed, as it often is from one source or another, his only real security is in his faithfulness, his persistence.
John’s example teaches us something we need to know even in 2023 about what it means to give witness. I said that truth will always be opposed from one source or another, in one way or another. And that is true. The believer who is a true witness, who publicly gives evidence of the truth, will probably be subject to some degree of opposition, perhaps of ridicule…some degree of suffering. In some sense ‘witness’ will always mean ‘martyr.’
So perhaps it is time for each of us to begin, or begin again, with an honest examination of the quality of our own witness. Does our choice of Christianity, our decision to believe, in any way set us apart from the
values and practices of the society around us? It should. Is our acceptance of Christ and his way obvious, clear, evident?
Is there a clear difference between what we say and do, and what is said and done by those around us who do not believe? Are there clear prophetic voices being raised in our own community, in our own parish, in witness to the truth? Voices raised not in judgement of evil, by itself, that does no good at all, but rather voices raised, example given, in clear affirmation and practice of the good.
True witness is rarely a matter of pointing out someone else’s faults…rather it is a matter of practicing, insistently practicing, one’s own virtue. Openly, clearly, obviously. Every day, for each one of us there are opportunities to witness, to testify to the fact that it is God’s world, and we are called to live in it on his terms.
Faith without witness is empty and hypocritical. At this Mass, when we echo John’s words at Communion, when we say, “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” let us, each of us, privately add his further words from the last line of the Gospel: “And I am his Witness.”