BY: Fr. Ben Agbo


HOMILY: *Is 49 :1-6, Act 13 :22-26, Lk 1 :57 – 80.

This feast is usually celebrated 6 months before Christmas. It is one of the 3 feasts of birthday of Saints the Church celebrates. In the personality of John the Baptist we see a perfect interplay of destiny, choice and discipline in the making of a missionary. St Augustine, talking about this feast says : ‘I cannot let this feast pass without a sermon, and if I speak more briefly than the dignity of the subject demands, its very profundity gives you food for thought’. He goes ahead to make the following comparison between the mission of John the Baptist and the mission of Christ :
(i) John’s mother was old and barren while Christ’s mother was young and a virgin.
(ii) John’s father was struck dumb for not believing the Word but in Jesus’ mother through Mary’s fiat the Word was made flesh. (iii) John marks the end of the Old testament while Jesus is the beginning of the new era of grace.

I personally have a mentor in the biblical personality of John the Baptist. From the point of view of Personality Psychology, John the Baptist belongs to the “Reformers”- those people who have a burning desire /passion to change their society for better. I want to eulogize him today for the following points :

1. THE SPIRIT OF REFORMATION : Today’s 1st reading says it all : ‘The Lord called me before I was born, from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword… He made me a polished arrow in his quiver…’ a light to the nations to purify his society. In John the Baptist we see an example of a destiny made clear from the mother’s womb ; a preacher that began to witness to Christ right from his mother’s womb. Pope Paul VI speaking against abortion cites John the Baptist as an example that “Prophets are made in the womb”.

2. MIRACLE OF NAMING : For those who don’t know, I’ll like to tell you that there is power in your name. This power is confered spiritually from parents to their children as they exercise their parental right of naming on their children. That is why Abram was turned into Abraham ; Jacob was turned into Israel ; Simon was turned into Peter and Saul was turned into Paul. The name ‘John’ means the Lord is gracious. The bearer of this name was to be a harbinger /forerunner of the grace of salvation through Jesus Christ. Faith was needed to actualize this destiny. But his father Zachariah hadn’t enough dose of it. His doubting tongue had to be closed until he was prepared to pronounce the name of grace. His doubting tongue was then opened for the voice of faith and witnessing to emerge in order to herald the Word. A voice was born – “The voice of one crying in the wilderness”. He ushered in a new era of praise worship, Is 43 :19f.

3. BAPTISM OF REPENTANCE : John was to be the biblical proponent of the Baptism of repentance which is supposed to be the progenitor /prologomenon to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. He preached the Baptism of repentance which is the basic requirement for salvation. But what is happening today is even a worse scenario – people receive baptism with neither the repentance nor the encounter of the Holy Ghost.

4. HUMBLE PROPHETISM : In today’s society where there is so much emphasis on private ministries and each minister is advertising himself and his ministry, we will still like to hear John the Baptist saying : ‘After me is coming one who is greater than I am, the sandals of whose I am not worthy to untie.. He will increase and I must decrease’.

5. THE SPIRITUAL MAN : John the Baptist was a sample of the spiritual man. He grew and became strong in the spirit – a man of the wilderness and a sign of contradiction to the new era of materialism. He stood for the symbols of the 3 evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. His Nazirite vow was a preview of the celibate priesthood of the new testament. The only thing he didn’t understand clearly, which he had to learn the hard way was about the Cross of Christ. He signalled the paradigm shift that later took place in Jesus Christ from primitive to modern asceticism. Jesus said, ‘Among those born of women, no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist… But of those born of the Spirit (Jn 3 : 3) he is the least’, Matt 11 : 7 – 11.
He was a prophet par excellence who had the burning passion to point others to Jesus and Jesus to others : ‘This is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world…I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God’, Jn 1 : 29 – 34.

According to Franz Fanon, ‘Every generation out of relative obscurity, has an obligation to either fulfill its mission or to betray it’. We pray for the spirit of John the Baptist even among modern day priests, seminarians, preachers, teachers and leaders – the spirit of reformation and excellence that will counter the mentality of ‘If you can’t beat them you can join them’ – a spirit that will be a sign of contradication to the worldly spirit ; the sexual passions, the arrogant desire for big academic and social titles, the crave for flashy cars, the attraction for beautiful women, tantalizing dishes, rich friends, examination malpractice, bribery and corruption, favouritism (Ima mmadu) etc. We need to learn the discipline of John the Baptist and his life of humility and detachment so that the life we live will not constitute an obstacle to what we preach. We need “homiletic responsibility” among preachers of today. According to Pope Paul VI, ‘A man teaches with moral authority only that which he does/ practices. Because when the conscience becomes an obstacle to speech then what is preached becomes difficult to accept. John the Baptist preached something and was prepared to die for it but today many preachers are “basin theologians” who like Pilate will know the truth but instead of standing for it will prefer to call for a basin of water to wash our hands off its responsibility. May God bless us with more ‘John the Baptists’ for the modern day church who will be fully responsible for the Word of God they preach.

Happy feast day of St John the Baptist!

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