“A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.” Isaiah 40:3
Today we celebrate the feast of the birth of John the Baptist, the precursor to the Messiah. John heralded the coming of the Bridegroom even before he was born (Luke 1:41) and dedicated his life to this good news. Hand-in-hand with his proclamation of the imminent arrival of the Messiah-Bridegroom was his testimony to the truth.
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.” (John 1:6-8)
It was for this unwavering fidelity to the truth that John was imprisoned by Herod the tetrarch and eventually beheaded. John was preaching against Herod’s adulterous union to Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip (who was still living), and both Herod and Herodias were growing tired of their consciences being pricked.
The Gospel of Mark mentions an interesting detail about Herod and John, however. Noting that Herod arrested John for the sake of Herodias, Mark notes that Herod liked to listen to John, even though he was perplexed by him (Mk 6:20).
You can almost see Herod sneaking down to John’s cell, without Herodias seeing him, and listening to this strange man speak of a new way of life, a kingdom and a Bridegroom, and repentance. This charismatic preacher intrigued him. This voice crying out proclaimed a message unlike Herod had ever heard.
That voice was a voice that could not be ignored. It required a response.
Herod could listen to the voice. Or he could silence it. Listening to the voice would require sacrifice and courage. In his case, it would require sending Herodias away and ending the sinful, adulterous union. To listen to the voice demanded change. So Herod chose to silence the voice.
We too are faced with the same option. We can listen to the Gospel message or we can silence it. Once we hear it, it requires a response, and an affirmative response will demand that we live our lives differently than before. Are we willing to let the Gospel change us? Are we willing to embrace the sacrifices and the responsibilities the message will require?
The story of John the Baptist reminds us that the message does not remain a voice crying out into the wilderness. It does not remain a Gospel preached from a pulpit or taught in a classroom. The voice, the message, the Gospel must be responded to and must be lived.
But a culture that promotes secularism wants the voice silenced. It does not want our lives to be changed by the voice. It is uncomfortable about the demands the Gospel makes, and so it chooses to attack the voice rather than be transformed.
During this Fortnight of Freedom, we pray to have the courage of John the Baptist. We pray for the passion to preach the truth and to join our voices to that voice crying out. But we also pray for the courage to respond to the demands of the voice. What am I called to do today, in my workplace or in my home? What in my life needs to change? Am I really willing to follow the Gospel?