Theme 12.  St John the Baptist (24 June): Fearlessly denouncing abuse of Political power (Archbishop Liborius N Nashenda, OMI)

St. John the Baptist, forerunner of Jesus, was to “make ready a nation fit for Christ the Lord.” Before he
was born into the world he began to live for the Incarnate God. Even in the womb he knew the presence
of Jesus and of Mary, and he leaped with joy at the glad coming of the son of man. In his youth he
remained hidden, because He for Whom he waited was hidden also. But His ministry involved living
like a wild-man in the desert, dressing in camel hair and eating whatever he could lay his hands on. In
silence and in prayer, he chastened his own soul. John travelled to the edge of the desert to let the rest of
the world know they were living sinful lives, he warned them to flee from the wrath to come, and gave
them the baptism of penance, while they confessed their sins. And he certainly didn’t pull a punch. He
targeted Jews and Gentiles alike, the religious leaders and King Herod Antipas himself calling them all a
“generation of vipers” (Lk 3:7). Decreasing himself, John prepared the way by pointing out the Lamb of
God and His Kingdom of peace.
John the Baptist was different. He had no interest in withdrawing; his message was very much on the
offensive while being disarmingly simple. He was listened to and his message went far and wide. The
reason was that he spoke the truth. His message was clear, uncompromising and undiluted. The result
was that despite his odd appearance, large numbers were drawn to him and, more importantly, were
transformed by his message. He protested against injustice and politics, thus, all forms of corruption.
The law given by God was there to protect all people and its kings were appointed by God to uphold
righteousness. This was not the case in John’s day. The ruler in his region was the tetrarch Herod
Antipas, who just like his tyrannical father, Herod the Great, overindulged his own power for personal
gain while remaining submissive to Rome’s interests, not God’s. John wouldn’t have a bar of it. Herod
Antipas had disobeyed Jewish law by marrying his brother’s wife and he denounced loudly about it as
well as all the other evil things he was doing as ruler. But it all got too much for Herod and his wife
Herodias, so John was arrested and locked up deep inside his palace fortress. It may not need us calling
out in the desert like John but we can sure howl at the gross injustices in this world. Learning to see the
world as God sees, to remember what he says is right and wrong, should always drive us to put it right.
John was beheaded, his life ended as a martyr. But John’s witness and ministry were felt far beyond his
own short life. He had awakened the people’s conscience but paid the ultimate price. Would we be
prepared to face fearlessly the same consequences for our faith as many Christians around the world
have to do in today’s various contexts?
John the Baptist wasn’t just a man on the peripheries of society who simply lamented everyone else for
not meeting his standards. When people came to him and asked “What shall we do then?” (Lk 3:10) his
answer was very practical: full of policies that when followed would lead to a just and more merciful
society where there is just distribution of available resources. The policies included rich giving clothes
and food to the poor (poverty eradication programme); the tax collector making sure he only takes how much
he needs (not greedy); and the soldier not abusing his position of authority and power (not power-hungry)
(Lk 3:10-14). John imparts that we need to offer solutions too in order to positively engage with those
that are falling short, come alongside them and give practical advice on how to do better. John clearly
spent more time listening to God. Perhaps that’s why he felt more at home in the desert. There he could
discern what God wanted through him for his people. Being this close to God can only build in his
character a deep sense of humility. Living truthfully and in holiness expressed itself in humility. John’s
perspective was never on earthly glory, it was always pointing to the greater glory of God.

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