John 1: 6-8.19-28
6 One day there appeared a man sent by God, whose name was John.
19 This is how John's testimony came to be when the Jews in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to question him, "Who are you?" 20 Then he admitted, he did not deny, he admitted this, "I am not the Messiah." 21 But they asked him again, "Who are you then? Are you Elijah". He replied, "I am not. "Are you the prophet?" He replied, "No". 22 So they said to him, "Who are you so that we can give an answer to those who sent us? What are you saying about yourself?" He said, "I am a voice crying in the wilderness:
"Make a direct path to the Lord",
24 There were people who had been sent by the Pharisees. 25 They also asked him, "Why then do you baptize if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?" 26 John answered them with these words, "I baptize in water. In the middle of you is someone you do not perceive. 27 Even though he is my disciple, he is someone I am not even worthy of taking off the strap from his sandal". All these events took place in Bethany, on the western side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
In our destitution, it only remains to discover our greatness
Gospel commentary - Homily
The death of Alexandre Soljenitsyne reminded us of the misery and greatness of our contemporary history. Closely watched and having to hide what he wrote, he nevertheless managed to publish "The Gulag Archipelago" to denounce these Siberian labor camps that he knew intimately and the totalitarian nature of the socialist regime. This will earn him the loss of his citizenship and his expulsion from the Soviet Union. Having the courage to expose a form of crime against humanity, despite the conspiracy of silence, sets him apart from the rest. But is he so different from all of us?
We have a long history of these hidden realities that eventually come to light. Today's gospel offers us the figure of John the Baptist. But there is something surprising in the way this figure is presented to us. They ask John the Baptist a question, "Who are you?" Have you noticed how he answers this question? Negatively, saying what he is not: he is neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the expected prophet. In the search for a truth which is difficult to grasp, it is normal to begin first by determining what a thing is not; in spite of everything, we progress towards light, even if it is not complete light.
But here we have an even deeper reality. Think for a moment about the story of many alcoholics. As long as they have not admitted that they cannot control their need to drink, until they have admitted that they are not all-powerful and that they need help, they cannot experience liberation. The same can be said of many of our personal problems. I knew a psychologist and therapist who used to say to her clients, "But you are not God!" It was her way of taking up the story of the Garden of Eden and making people realize that the source of many problems is the false self-perception and false expectations about oneself which propel us into an unreal world which ends up destroying us. To say truthfully and simply everything that I am not has something liberating, because it brings us closer to our true self, that which God created.
What happens when we confess: I am not all-powerful; I'm not perfect; I do not have unlimited intelligence and energy; I don't I have this special talent that my colleague has? I adjust my lens to what I really am, I take the time to reconcile with what I have of my own and I let others take their place. So I learn to listen to the sounds that are my own and that will guide me in what I have to bring to this world.
But there is more. Let's go back to the gospel story. After saying all that he is not, John the Baptist can say: "I am a voice that cries out in the wilderness. Make a direct path to the Lord". In other words, after eliminating all false self-images and somehow creating emptiness or the wilderness, he is able to create a direct path to oneself, where the Lord speaks. At this moment an incredible thing is happening. As we find ourselves in the wilderness of all that we are not, we discover that we are the bearer of a mystery which is beyond us, our own person, who is in fact inhabited and enlightened by a mystery which the Christian faith calls : the Spirit of the risen Christ. This is what John the Baptist says, "In the midst of you is someone whom you do not perceive, there is someone from whom I am not worthy to even detach the strap from his sandal."
Let us understand that the evangelist John is talking about our spiritual journey through the figure of John the Baptist. We live in a world that values pretension, boasting and arrogance. Why do we find so much cheating through doping in cycling races or the Olympic games? Why all these resumes where we want to say that we're almost the messiah? And the first victim is ourselves. Liberation begins by naming in all truth and honesty what we are not, until the moment when, after this purification in water, there remains only this diamond that we are and that we have not been able to see until now, or rather the mystery which we inherited and which we carry with our fragile arms.
What is still missing so we could take the same actions as Solzhenitsyn? Faith, faith in this word that comes from our heart, faith that this word does not deceive us and that we can and must follow it to the end. This is what it means to be a witness of the Messiah. This is what John the Baptist was. And us?
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, August 2008