– *Fr Cedric Prakash SJ
Wanted Now: A John the Baptist! – who brings hope. For many, these past months have been a period of hopelessness, of despair, of despondency and of dejection. There is a listlessness and a cloud of unknowing that have gripped the lives of millions over during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. John’s birth was announced to a barren, aged woman Elizabeth. No one would have expected that; but with God nothing is impossible: John is the new hope!
Wanted Now: A John the Baptist! – who leaps in the womb of his mother Elizabeth when she lovingly embraces her kinswoman Mary. He is the one who listens intently to the ‘Magnificat’ being sung: it is a prayer of praise, petition and accompaniment. He is the one who will operationalise the words, “He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty”.
Wanted Now: A John the Baptist! – who will bring joy and gladness to all. Many will rejoice at his birth because he will be great before the Lord. He will be fortified with the values of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. He will not be divisive or exclusive but treat everyone with dignity and equity irrespective of their religion, beliefs, nationality, colour, caste, gender, ethnicity, language, customs. He will walk with the migrant workers, uplift the Dalits and take a stand for the Adivasis when their forests are being taken away from them! He will be bound and thrown into prison – on trumped up charges (like those who speak against the CAA). Totally locked down! But he does not care! The Lord’s Spirit and the truth will set him free!
Wanted Now: A John the Baptist! – whose name is not a stereo-type; the one who is not ensconced in a comfort zone. He is unlike those who does not want to rock the boat; the ‘haji’(Yes Sir!)man who always tries to please the ‘boss’ – after all there will be the privileges, the powers , the positions, the perks, the promotions that will surely come if one does so. We see it happening everywhere (even with past Chief Justices!) and all the time. Here it is different: “His name is John!” wrote Zechariah! He is a rebel, a revolutionary – one who is the change, he wants to bring about!
Wanted Now: A John the Baptist! – who is a voice crying in the wilderness. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, … And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” Words which Rev Martin Luther King Jr. reminded the world on 28 August 1963 in his memorable speech. “I have a dream…!” A great speech which we need to internalise today and make it a reality for all!
Wanted Now: A John the Baptist! – who is a witness: a true disciple! “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light”. His life was one of commitment, frugality and humility. He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He has zeal and therefore is able to set this world on fire! A fire which enkindles other fires. One will never be able to do so if there is no fire within: the flame of love and of service!
Wanted Now: A John the Baptist! – who has the transparency to demand that systemic issues are first addressed particularly the exploitation of the poor, injustice, corruption, calumny, selfishness, greed and much more! Who is able to say: “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” To the tax collectors “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” To the soldiers “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”. These are no theories but concrete, substantial acts which are geared to change the system!
Wanted Now: A John the Baptist! – who can take on headlong those who peddle religion: those who weigh down ordinary people with heavy burdens -rituals and superstitions, of practices which have nothing to do with real faith. Who is able to say to the Pharisees and Sadducees (the priestly class) “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”. We need to put our own house in order first!
Wanted Now: A John the Baptist! – who has the courage to take on the Herods of our time; to speak truth to power! Who is ready to stick his neck out and face the consequences! To get beheaded and that head is served on a platter to satisfy the whims and fancies, the vile tastes of a sinful generation. For him, only one thing matters: to stand up for the truth and for what is right. To work for the Constitutional and democratic rights of all – even as one struggles against fascist, fundamentalist and fanatic forces!
Wanted Now: A John the Baptist! – who is able to understand what it is to play a prophetic role in our world today! It was said of him “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways”. Later when asked “Are you the Prophet?” He has the humility to say, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” Fully aware of the role he has to play he says, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” Understanding one’s prophetic role today means one has to take an unequivocal stand- one cannot indulge in the false niceties and hypocritical diplomacies of the world. The odds will be against you; one will have to struggle against the stream: hounded and harassed, not accepted even by one’s own. No prophet is accepted in his own home! Yet only when one is visible and vocal one can truly be the voice crying out in the wilderness!
Wanted NOW: A John the Baptist!
*(Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights and peace activist/writer. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)