John 1:6-8, 19-28
From God For Testimony
by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites (to him) to ask him, "Who are you?" he admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, I am not the Messiah." So they asked him, "What are you then? Are you Elijah?" And he said, " I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No." So they said to him, "Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?" He said: "I am 'the voice of one crying out in the desert, "Make straight the way of the Lord,"' as Isaiah the prophet said." Some Pharisees were also sent. They asked him, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet?" John answered them, "I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to unite." This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
“A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony ...” (Jn 1:6-7) When we first hear about John the Baptist in the Gospel of John, we learn precious little about him. Unlike Luke, John says nothing about the Baptist's family or the circumstances of his birth. The Baptist just appears on the scene. Indeed, John's sparse account seems to tell us more about who the Baptist is not than who he is. Not the Messiah, not the prophet, and not one who will describe himself in any way other than “the voice of one crying out in the desert” (cf. Jn 1:19-23). And yet, if John's Gospel gives us little biographical information, its first words about the Baptist really tell us all we need to know: “from God ... for testimony.”
“A man named John was sent from God.” The Baptist's appearance at the Jordan was not a random occurrence or a happy coincidence. He was not just another itinerant preacher or self-proclaimed prophet. He came from God as the necessary precursor to the Christ. His coming was foretold by the prophets to Israel and by the Archangel to Zechariah. His arrival is an essential part of God's plan of salvation.
“He came for testimony ...” When Whittaker Chambers — the former Soviet spy who testified heroically against Alger Hiss — wrote his autobiography, he gave it a simple title: Witness. No other word could summarize all that he had done and all that he had become. The same holds true for John the Baptist — indeed, truer for him as his purpose was greater than Chambers'. He came for testimony — witness — not only to bear witness but to become a witness.
He came for testimony — to give it and to become it. His entire life was so shaped around this purpose as to make the mission and the man just one thing: testimony. Or, viewed in another direction, he bore witness because he himself was first a witness. The Greek word for witness or testimony is martyr. As John the Baptist bore witness by his words and actions so in the end he became that witness — that martyr — in giving his life.
The mission of John the Baptist continues in the church today. The words his father Zechariah uses to describe his mission apply also to the church and her members: We are to “go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give His people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins” (Lk 1:76-77). Having a share in John's mission, we should likewise have a keen sense of our origin and purpose — of where we come from and what we are for.
We are from God. No, not in the exceptional way as John the Baptist. There was only one precursor, after all. But we are no less loved into being by God. “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary” (Pope Benedict XVI). Like John, we have bios that could be given — dates and times and places and ancestors, etc. But the most profound and important story of our origin is captured in two words: from God.
Likewise, we are for testimony, made to be witnesses. Not just to bear witness or to give testimony, but to be ourselves that testimony. Witness must be what we are. Indeed, our primary testimony is something not done but lived — to “exist for the praise of His glory” (Eph 1:12). The more this testimony is integrated into our lives, the stronger and more credible it is. Bearing witness is not a part-time thing. It is not just a segment of our lives that can be exercised and then boxed up and placed back on the shelf for the next time. The world immediately perceives the weakness of such a witness — it is the worthless witness of “I am Catholic, but ...”
From and for ... origin and purpose. We all want to know where we come from and where we are going — in short, why we are here. What we hear about John the Baptist — a man from God and for testimony — holds true also for us.
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