11 December 2020
11 Dec 2020

There is no mission without identity

© photo credit: papoinverso
by  André Vital Félix da Silva, vescovo scj

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Once again, the Advent liturgy offers us the figure of John the Baptist as an important reference in our journey of preparation to welcome the Savior. On this third Advent Sunday, the gospel highlights two fundamental and inseparable elements of the prophet: his identity and his mission. In other words, it speaks about who John Baptist is and what he came to accomplish. John is “a man who was sent by God“. In this sense, he resembles so many others in the biblical tradition that are identified as sent by God, especially the prophets. However, his name “John” reveals something specific to his mission. In Hebrew, it means “God is merciful“. Therefore, John is a concrete proof that God will keep his promises. He will visit his people to set them free. John is par excellence the prophet sent by God, because he shows us Jesus who, not only speaks of God’s mercy, but acts with mercy towards his people. Unlike all the others who were sent, he comes to bear witness (Greek: martyria) of the light “so that all might believe through Him“.

The precursor’s identity and mission make him unmistakable. However, only those who receive his testimony can adequately prepare themselves to recognize Jesus as the true light and be enlightened by Him. Jesus’ forthcoming opponents (Jewish authorities) have also sent some men (priests and Levites) to John the Baptist to inquiry him about his identity and mission: “Who are you and why do you baptize?“. Before revealing who he was, John insists on not being misunderstood about who he is not: “I am not the Christ (the Messiah)…”

When it comes to one’s identity, it is important to be clear about what one is not. Otherwise, it is impossible to understand one’s mission. On the other hand, one’s identity is consolidated insofar as one lives out his mission with truthfulness. John does not allow his identity to be misunderstood. In a threefold denial, he clarifies any doubts: he is not the Messiah; he is not Elijah; he is not the Prophet.

People are often tempted to forge their own identity, claiming to be what in fact they are not. They do so only to earn acceptance and recognition in the environment where they find themselves, even though it may cost them a high price for the lack of authenticity. Acknowledging your true self is challenging, particularly when facing your own truth requires humility to change and authentic conversion. Such is the result of an encounter with the One who is the true Light. He who does not allow us to live in the shadow of our lack of identity, nor under a false image which camouflages the liberating truth.

John is convinced of his identity. He says something about himself without forgetting the identity of his mission: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert“. Recognizing himself as the crying voice, he acknowledges that his existence is closely related to the creative Word. The Gospel prologue states: “All things came to be through him (Logos: Word), and without him, nothing came to be” (Jn 1:3). Therefore, it is very dangerous for a person to talk about his identity without considering the intrinsic relationship with the Creator who called him into existence by the power of the Word. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14). This is the most consistent reality on which we can build our identity, for we are not just historical beings lost in a space without direction. To those who accepted him, “He gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name” (Jn 1:12). Therefore, John the Baptist came to bear witness to the Light in order that everyone might come to believe. Believing in the Light and being enlightened by it is not an option for those who seek to know their identity and mission. Believing in the Light is the way to discover the truth. Faith is not a possibility of knowing this truth, but the ability to accept it. Without faith, human beings cannot experience their desired freedom, which is the only condition to consolidate their own identity.

John the Baptist not only confirms his identity as a person who has been enlightened by the true Light, but he also recognizes that his mission is rooted in humility, without being flattered by his own condition. He sees himself as less than a mere servant, unworthy to serve the true Light. “The one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie“.

The Messiah’s precursor does not want to be misunderstood. Thus, he becomes a true witness.

Advent is an excellent time to evaluate how we are living in the light of our Christian identity. This time invites us to have the courage of John the Baptist to acknowledge what does not represent us as people enlightened by the Word. Claiming to be a Christian is not enough. We need to renounce what is contrary to our Christian identity, because it confuses and weakens our mission. Advent is a time to encounter the true Light which by faith we recognize to be the source of life’s fulness. A Light which gives us identity and entrusts us with a mission in the world.

The plurality of options in life’s horizon does not prevent us from assuming the inalienable right to have a recognized and respected identity. We may face oppositions, persecutions, and even attempts to destroy our Christian Catholic identity in order to obstruct our mission in the world. However, we must not give up on witnessing our identity as Children of God, created in His image and likeness, and coheirs with his Only Begotten Son whose birth we celebrate and whose ultimate coming we await.

The courage to announce the true Light will guarantee our identity. The humility on witnessing this truth will confirm us in our mission in the world. Renouncing the courage to assume our identity and losing humility in accomplishing our mission will surely be the most significant impediments to become true witnesses of the Light.

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