We continue our reflections on John the Baptist on this “gaudete Sunday.” Even though this is the year of Mark, today we have the gospel from John. The reading explains about the ministry of John the Baptist. The gospel begins with these words, “A man came, sent by God. His name was John. He came as a witness, as a witness to speak for the light, so that everyone might believe through him. He was not the light, only a witness to speak for the light.” It is clear from these verses that John the Baptist came to witness to Jesus who is the true light. The Greek word for witnessing used here is “μαρτυρήσω” (martyreo) which is usually translated as to bear witness or to testify. The English word martyr comes from this word. Therefore, we could say that John came to bear witness for Christ and that by his martyrdom.
John was an important figure in the Jewish society of that time. Many thought of him to be the Messiah. When the religious authorities realised that people were flocking to him they sent a delegation to inquire about the matter. They ask him certain questions as to the identiy of John the Baptist. “Who are you?” was the first question to which he answered “I am not the Christ.” Messianic expectation was at its peak during this time and seeing John many thought of him to be the Chrst. Then they asked him whether he is Elijah. Why do they ask it? The answer could be found in the book of teh prophet Malachi. “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.” (4:5). So the Jews believed that Elijah would come before the arrival of the Messiah. In his appearance John resembled very much Elijah. His thundering words, food habits and clothing reminded them of Eliljah. When John denied that too, then they ask him whether he is the prophet. Pay attention to this question. The reference is to the prophet, not to a prophet. Which prophet is referred to here? We read in Deuteronomy 18:18 the promise God made to Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.” So, they were asking John whether he is this prophet. But no was the answer.
John had come to understand that he was a voice who prepared people to meet the Messiah. He was not the Word; he was the voice who helped people to recognize the presence of the Word made flesh in their midst. He was not the light but a witness to the light. Rather than becoming the person others wanted him to be, John the Baptist was content to be the person God wanted him to be. He knew that God gave him his identity, not any human being. It was God who called him to be the voice who prepares the way for God’s Son. The question ‘Who are you?’ is really the question ‘Who does God want you to be?’ God gives us our identity. It is in responding to the call of God that we become our true selves, we find ourselves. John the Baptist knew that his calling was to make Christ know. That is also our calling too.