John's Authority is Questioned

2 January 2006: Sts. Basil the Great & Gregory Nazianzen
John 1, 19-28: John the Baptist Witnesses to Jesus

Today, we hear a familiar Gospel about John the Baptist witnessing to Jesus. It is familiar because we have heard it during the Advent Season. But we wonder what these stories tell us while we celebrate the Season of Christmas. On January 1st Sunday, we heard about the naming of Jesus during his circumcision. Today, we see a grown up Jesus being baptized. Next Sunday, Jesus becomes a baby again when the Magi visits him. How are we going to figure this out?

The whole of the Gospel of John is a trial of Jesus by the leaders of his people. From the very beginning, the Jews who rejected Jesus are in direct attack. John the Baptist is called to be the first witness to Jesus. The authorities would like to know by what authority does John baptizes and his role with that of Malachi’s Elijah or the expected prophet-like Moses of Deuteronomy. John denies all except identifying himself as ‘the voice that cries out in the desert’ and therefore distinguishing his role as a witness. His task therefore is to prepare the way for a greater One to follow him.

This brings us to the point for reflection. If we put ourselves in the place of John, and the authorities interrogate us on what authority do we practice our faith, what would we honestly tell them? Let’s take the mass. If you come to mass because it is an obligation, then you come because of a law or a requirement. It is no different from fulfilling the requirement of a course: you submit the term paper that you need and you’re done. Fulfilling an obligation does not necessarily involve participation at mass.

On the other hand, if you come to mass because your parents told you to do so, then you come by parental authority. This is no different from following an ROTC officer. You might have obeyed; people have seen you accomplished what has been commanded, but your heart may not be there.

Or maybe you come to mass because your friends are there. Then, you come by peer pressure.

Perhaps you come to mass because you have things to ask God for. Then, you come by need. If one operates by need, then God is someone we use. What if there is nothing to ask for? Would you still come to mass?

Or by reward: if there is no heaven nor hell, will you still love God?

We learn from the saints. St. Therese of Liseux said, “if only God didn’t see me when I do good, then He wouldn’t have to reward me.”

St. Peter: “What reward will I get? We have left everything to follow you?” (Mark 10:28). Even in death, according to Origen, Peter represented to be crucified upside down, NOT for reward, but because he didn’t consider himself worthy to die as Jesus.

St. Francis Xavier’s prayer: “O God, I do not love you so that you will save me: neither do I love you so that you will not punish me. I love you and I will love you as you have loved me. For me, to love you, you need nothing to give.”

As we end the Season of Christmas, we journey with the child Jesus. As a child grows in trust and dependence on God, we too grow in our faith. As a child grows in wisdom, we too are challenged to know our faith, and better to have a growing knowledge of who Jesus is. Today, we first look at our motivations: they will determine our openness to know Jesus. Those who come by law, by parental authority, by peer pressure, and by need, will not find knowing Christ better, a big deal.

But for someone who desires to know Christ, coming to mass is a commitment to a love: participation then comes naturally, and prayer becomes a way of life.

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