Third Sunday of Advent
First Reading: Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11
Responsorial Psalm: Luke 1:46-50
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Thessalonians 3:8-14
Gospel: According to St. John 1:6-8, 19-28
In A Man for All Seasons when Richard Rich is put on the witness stand in the trial of St. Thomas More he swears to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. ” Yet he needs to be reminded to add the words “so help me God.” It appears that the perjury that he was about to commit wasn’t something with which he wanted to involve God. Despite his reservations, Rich did perjure himself – with God as his witness – and his testimony sent More to the executioner.
Just as Rich gave testimony to a lie, so did, 15 centuries earlier, St. John the Baptist give testimony to the truth. As St. John the Evangelist put it in this weekend’s Gospel reading, “He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.”
John the Baptist wasn’t speaking at a trial, nor was he “under oath” to tell the truth, but his testimony was in front of the priests and Levites who were sent to question him, and God certainly was his witness. In true prophetic fashion, when questioned by the authorities John gave an answer that told them not what they wanted to hear, but what he was sent to proclaim.
“Who are you?” “I am not the Christ.”
John had no desire then – or ever – to make the authorities from Jerusalem happy; his entire raison d'être was to, as he said, be “the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” Here he quotes Isaiah, the great Old Testament prophet who this week’s first reading reminds us was sent, among other things, “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.”
John, in referencing Isaiah, reminds us that the reason he must give testimony to Jesus is because of the revolutionary nature of His ministry. Those sent to question John had concerns much different from those expressed by Isaiah, and it was because of authorities such as those that Jesus needed to come into the world. Who else would not only stand for the poor, the brokenhearted, captives and prisoners, but also would have the authority to bring glad tidings, heal, proclaim liberty or release?
John’s testimony is presented years before the trial of Jesus, but it is made to those who will be the ones who make that trial a reality, the priests and Levites who oppose the revolution of Christ. John prepares the way for our Lord not only by preaching the Kingdom, but also by making the case for Jesus against those who will try to silence Him.
The testimony of John, both here and later, gets him arrested and it results in the same outcome as that of St. Thomas More – his head is separated from his shoulders. Ironically, at the end of A Man for All Seasons, the film’s narrator describes how all of the main characters come to their various ends. This litany is full of violent and unbecoming deaths, including that of King Henry VIII. The narrator concludes with: “And Richard Rich died in his bed.”
Given the choice, it is fairly certain that John the Baptist would have rather died in that same fashion. But it is even more certain that for John his testimony to the Truth was worth infinitely more than dying in his bed.