It must have seemed to the Pharisees and the priests and Levites sent from Jerusalem that John the Baptist was being deliberately vague and uncommunicative—for instead of coming right out and telling them who he was and what he was doing, he gave short, cryptic, or confusing answers to their questions. In fact, this approach helped build up suspense, giving his message about One more powerful than him coming after him that much more impact. A few years ago a pastor taking a flight home from vacation ended up using the same technique. He was seated next to a well-dressed businessman reading the Wall Street Journal. Because he felt embarrassed at being casually dressed, the pastor decided to avoid conversation, but the businessman introduced himself and began telling how he was a rising executive in a nationwide company, remarking, “We are the fastest growing organization of our kind in the country. It’s really good to be part of an organization like that, don’t you think?” The pastor thought to himself, “This man is proud of his work and accomplishments. Why can’t we Christians be like that? Why are we so often apologetic about our faith and our church?”
When the businessman asked the inevitable question, “And what do you do?,” the pastor decided to take the plunge. “I’m in the personality-changing business,” he said; “my organization applies basic theocratic principles to accomplish indigenous personality modifications.” The businessman looked impressed, and said, “You know, I think I’ve heard of that. Do you an office here in the city?” “Oh,” responded the pastor, “we have offices in every city, and in almost every country—do you have that?” “Well, no, not yet,” answered the businessman. “But how is your company managed?” The pastor explained, “It’s a family concern. There’s a Father and a Son, and they run everything. And the employees? That’s really something to see. They have a ‘Spirit’ that pervades the organization. It works like this: the Father and the Son love each other so much that their love filters down through the entire organization, and we find ourselves loving one another too. In fact, I know people in the organization willing to die for me. Do you have that in your company?” The businessman shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and trying to change the subject, said, “Um, no, but do you have good benefits?” “Oh, yes,” said the pastor, “and they’re substantial—life insurance, fire insurance, and even holdings in a mansion that’s being built for me right now for my retirement. Do you have that?” “No,” the businessman admitted, and then remarked, “One thing bothers me about what you’re saying—I’ve read all the journals, and if your business is everything you say it is, why haven’t I heard about it before now?” “That’s a good question,” the pastor said, “for we have a 2000 year tradition.” “Wait a minute!” the businessman exclaimed, and the pastor interrupted, saying with a smile, “You’re right—I’m talking about the Church.” The businessman answered, “I knew it! You know, I’m Jewish,” to which the pastor responded, “So, are you ready to sign up?” (Swindoll’s Ultimate Book Of Illustrations & Quotes, p. 617). This is one of many possible approaches to evangelization. We don’t have to go up to people and ask directly “Have you been saved?,” but we are supposed to share our faith—and if we’re willing to do this, God will give us the opportunities.
Good news really isn’t good news if we keep it to ourselves—and this is especially true when it comes to the Good News of salvation. The Book of the Prophet Isaiah foretells the mission of Jesus (61:1-2, 10-11): “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor . . . to announce a year of favor from the Lord. . . .” In some way, every follower of Jesus shares in this mission. In his Letter to the Thessalonians (5:16-24), St. Paul tells us how to witness to the Gospel. We must refrain from every type of evil; we must rejoice always, constantly give thanks, pray without ceasing, and be ever open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In this way our example will have a powerful influence on others, and in this way, we—like St. John the Baptist—will be able to point others toward Jesus.
A woman driving through a little town at midday stopped at a small restaurant, only to find it locked, with a sign in the window saying, “Out for lunch; back in an hour” (homily notebook, “Witness”). Naturally, the woman decided she was probably better off not dining there. If the owner of a restaurant doesn’t believe enough in his own cooking to eat lunch there, he isn’t going to attract many customers; in the same way, if Christians don’t believe in their faith enough to share it, the Church isn’t going to make many converts, and the Gospel isn’t going to have much of an impact on the world. We are all called to evangelize, and this is one of the things on which we’ll be judged. Some of us are outgoing, and will talk about anything—except religion; if so, we need to ask ourselves why that is, and whether, in the light of eternity, that attitude really makes sense. Some of us are quiet or shy, and can’t imagine ourselves talking about our faith, especially with people we don’t know well; if so, we have to remind ourselves that Jesus promises us that if we’re faithful to Him, the Holy Spirit will give us the right words to say.
If we truly love Jesus, we’ll want to please Him by giving Him what He desires most: our loving service on behalf of the Gospel. For most of us, this does not mean a public ministry of evangelization, but simply a willingness to use whatever opportunities the Lord offers us. Standing up for what we believe, defending the Church’s teachings when they’re attacked, refusing to compromise our values or go along with the crowd on issues of morality, trying to be friendly and approachable, offering encouragement when we see someone struggling with a problem, inviting someone to come to or return to the Church, and being willing to talk about our faith in a low-key, non-threatening way when someone asks, are all important means of sharing the Gospel. We don’t necessarily have to use a clever marketing approach, like the pastor talking to the businessman, but we do have to bear simple and sincere witness to Jesus in our everyday encounters, while always asking the Lord to guide us in what to say and do. John the Baptist had a flair for the dramatic. Jesus isn’t asking that of us, but He does expect us to be clearly identifiable as His followers by the way we live, in this way testifying that He alone is the true light of the world.