In today’s gospel, we find the second time this Advent that John the Baptist is discussed. In the days to come we will see him mentioned several more times in the readings. What I find interesting in today’s gospel (Mt 11:11-15) is that while Jesus speaks of the greatness of John’s role, John the Baptist is sitting in prison (see Mt 11:2)! John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod the tetrarch because he spoke out against the ruler’s illicit relationship with his brother’s wife. According to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, Herod was married to the daughter of an Arabian king, but also lived in an adulterous relationship with his brother’s wife, Herodius. When John spoke out against this relationship, he was imprisoned and subsequently beheaded.
John’s basic message to the people was “reform your lives”. As with all of the prophets, there were many who didn’t want to hear that message. Anyone preaching the true word of God will inevitably offend some people. Most often, the individuals who are offended are the ones that most need to hear the message. Today we live in challenging times, but how much different are they than the biblical era? In days past, people worshipped many false gods and today the pursuit of the “false gods” of wealth, comfort, relaxation, sexual permissiveness and pleasure-seeking abound. As in biblical times, when one speaks out for The Lord today they are often met with ridicule and various forms of persecution. We see this in frequently in the pro-life movement and when one tries to protect the traditional family by speaking out against gay “marriage”.
We often hear the phrase “What would Jesus do?” which is an excellent standard by which to judge one’s actions. I’d like to offer a variation in this Advent season and ask, “What would John the Baptist do?”. Would John do nothing when he read an article advocating abortion on demand or would he write a letter to the editor exposing the myth of “choice” as nothing more than cold blooded murder? Would John remain silent when a co-worker mocked the Catholic stance on artificial birth control or in-vitro fertilization or would he charitably explain why the Catholic Church teaches that those actions are a violation against the sanctity of the marriage act? Would John have refrained from uttering his famous call to “reform your lives” for fear of being called judgmental? Or would he have instead preached the truth even if it was unpopular?
I think that we all know what John would have done, but the more difficult question is “what do we do” when faced with these situations? Is it difficult to always stand up for what’s right? You bet…That’s why we are blessed with the Holy Spirit’s gift of fortitude. It helps us to speak the truth even when it’s difficult. As we continue to prepare for the birth of the Lord in this Advent season, let us ask the Holy Spirit to increase the gift of fortitude in us. Then, like John the Baptist, we can truly help people prepare for the coming of the Kingdom!