Reflection on Today’s Daily Readings by Fr. Bertrand Buby, SM
Scripture: Lectionary 587. Isaiah 49:1-6. Psalm 139:1-3.13-14.14-15. Acts
13:22-26. Luke 1:57-66,80.
Birth Narratives or Infancy Gospels are important texts within Luke and
Matthew. It is Luke who makes the narratives more personal because of his
interest in those who were relatives and friends and who would play a part
in the life of Jesus at his birth and afterwards. Zechariah, the father of
John the Baptist, and his wife Elizabeth are focused upon in the texts that
speak of John the Baptist’s birth. Both parents agree on naming him John
even though their neighbors and friends were surprised at that name. Luke
has Zechariah writing on a tablet, “John is his name.” This was definitely
the name that Elizabeth wanted for her son after his circumcision on the
eigth day. The name shows the once sterile Elizabeth that “God is
gracious” (Johanan) and John will be the herald for the coming of the
Messiah, Jesus, his cousin. An era of grace has begun. We already have the
narrative of the Visitation where John joyously moved (“leaped”) within his
mother’s womb as Mary pregnant with Jesus greets her cousin Elizabeth.
Luke will parallel both the announcement of John with that of Jesus as he
literarily paints a dyptich or double painting framed in two panels.
The Suffering Servant, Paul, John the Baptist and Jesus all will be said to
be a light of revelation to the Gentiles. The mention of the servant being
in the womb of his mother is another point of comparison that helps us
meditate with joy on the way God works in these holy ones even before their
birth. Every human birth is a grace and a miracle for each person is born
having in themselves the image and likeness of God. John was being
prepared to be the prophet, the witness, the forerunner and the herald who
would announce the Messianic age. For that reason he is imaged as the new
Elijah who has this role as a prophet of Israel (see Malachai 3.
We should not forget the marvelous grace of a child given to the heroines
of the Old Testament: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, the mother of Samson, and
Anna the mother of Samuel. “With God nothing is impossible.” All of these
women probably gave a party in honor of the baby who was born and named.
Joy and friendship surrounding them and they gave thanks to God for the
miracle of life they brought forth. We do the same in our celebrating the
birth of John the Baptist as a solemnity. The extra reading tells us this
and gives us more Lukan insights about John. We are led to meditate on his
great asceticism, his honesty, courage, and his humility. He has as his
message, “He (Jesus, the Messiah) must increase; I must decrease.” Luke in
Acts adds to this by John saying, “What you suppose me to be I am not.
Rather, look for the one who comes after me. I am not worthy to unfasten
the sandals on his feet.”
After Jesus is baptized by John he will tell us that “Of those born of
women, there is no greater than John the Baptist.” We are overwhelmed with
the great influence John has had on the history of salvation as Jesus’
herald, as the one who clears a path in the desert, as a witness (and
martyr), a forerunner, and a holy prophet who preaches boldly the message
of repentance. We can imagine him as Elijah who will usher in the
messianic era. We have the opportunity of taking some time out of a busy
day to thank God for the greatness of Saint John the Baptist. This is our
way of celebrating his birthday. Amen.