Jun. 23, 2018

THE NATIVITY OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST, June 24,2018

 “THE LORD CALLED ME FROM BIRTH…”: WHAT IS IN A NAME?

Readings: 1st- Is. 49:1-6; 2nd- Acts 13:22-26; Gospel- Lk: 1:57-66, 80

We celebrate today, the great feast of Saint John the Baptist. John is the most popular prophet of the New Testament. Of him Christ proclaimed, “Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist” (Matt. 11:11; Lk. 7:28).

As I read about John the Baptist’s story, I learnt that his relationship with Christ has affected the structuring of nature in the calendar of events today. When John was informed that Jesus was baptizing while he was baptizing, John said about himself, “You yourselves can testify that I said that I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him… He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:28,30). The 2018 Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers, and Proclaimers of the Word, says, “Today’s solemnity, which (in the northern hemisphere) occurs near the longest day of the year, just as the daylight is beginning to diminish, is linked to our celebration on December 24-25. Then, just as daylight is at its shortest span, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Light of the world. What we celebrate on the cosmic clock, we apply to our own lives.”

What do we learn from John the Baptist? We learn that hsi relationship with Jesus was designed by God for the fulfilment of the messianic kingdom. John’s mission was in anticipation of the inauguration of Jesus’ mission. The mystery began right from the father, Zechariah’s encounter with the angel while ministering at the temple. Zechariah lost his speech for the nine months preceding John’s birth because he doubted the reality of Elizabeth’s conception. His voice was restored as a sign of the voice which John would be to the Christ. Elizabeth, conceived by special divine intervention at an age that was biologically impossible for child-bearing. The Virgin Mary visited Elizabeth three months before the birth of John. During Mary’s visit, there was a special encounter; an exchange between the “Voice” and the “Word”. John the Baptist was said to have “leapt for joy” because Christ imparted the Holy Spirit upon him right from the womb.

When Jesus appeared on the scene, the Scriptures didn’t narrate any special incident where Jesus was introduced to John before he could identify him. That introduction took place in the womb-to-womb exchange between Mary and Elizabeth by the Holy Spirit. This made it possible for John to point to Jesus and refer his disciples to him saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29,36).

The miracle and mystery surrounding John the Baptist became obvious at his naming ceremony. In today’s gospel, we notice the confusion surrounding what name the newborn would be given. The relatives had already decided to call him Zechariah 11, after his father. The mom, inspired by the Spirit had concluded he’d be called John. The people’s reaction is, “There is no one among your relatives who has this name.” They didn’t know that John was a relative of Jesus. He was fortunate from birth. He was fortunate to embrace the Lord from the womb. He was fortunate because the Lord gave him his name from his mother’s womb. He was fortunate because the Holy Spirit already descended on him at conception. He was fortunate because he was going to be a voice that speaks for the Lord. John was fortunate to receive a name special, a name not chosen by the people but by God himself. John pointed to Jesus, a name which means, “the Lord has shown favor” while Jesus means, “savior” or “the Lord saves”.

The manifestation of John’s mission was great; “So, they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name”. All became amazed. Zechariah’s speech returned. Just as he spoke in the Benedictus, “The Lord has visited his people and redeemed them. He has raised up for us a mighty savior, in the house of David his servant”. All were amazed at the name which the Lord gave to John.

The prophet Isaiah tells us, “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name” (Is. 49:2). Today, I want us to reflect on our names. I want each of to believe that God consecrated you and chose you from the womb for a purpose. God knows what you’re to bear and guides your parents to a decision on your name.

My name, for instance, is Vincent. Vincent is what God knows me as. Vincent means “Invincible or Victor”. My parents knew the power in a name and were guided by the Holy Spirit to choose my name. So also, every parent, I believe. Think about the consultations you make before naming your child. Some couples conduct researches for days and months before agreeing on a child’s name. Some argue and debate before they come up with their child’s name. Sometimes they disagree, then father calls him/her something, while mother calls him/her another. Grandparents give their own name while in-laws call something even different. There is always a reason behind such going back and forth. There is something in a name. Either you name the child following a saint that you admire, your parents/grandparents that you love; a celebrity, or from a personal experience of yours. My dad named me after his one and only brother that died as a young adult. He loved him and loved his name. I believe he wanted me to help keep the memories of his beloved brother. So, I give you some challenges/assignments today:

  • Find out the meaning of your name if you didn’t know it before now.
  • Find out the circumstances surrounding the naming of your name at childbirth. What informed your parent(s) to call you the name that you bear?
  • For couples still bearing children, do not give your children names with no reasons. Find out what the Lord wants of you for your child.

Finally, realize today, that the Lord cares for you in a special way. If he identifies you by name, then he knows you. If he knows you that much, he cares for you. Israel thought the Lord had forgotten her, almost got discouraged. But the prophet Isaiah woke them up with such a reminder, “Though I thought I had toiled in vain. And for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God” (Is. 49:4).

God knows you by name. He knows the challenges you’re going through. He knows you in your lowest moment as well as in your most excited times. Before him you’re special, you’re made glorious. Like David, he wants you to be special. Like John the Baptist, he wants you to be his voice. He has special interest in you because you bear his image. You represent him by your name. Let us ask God to make our names special; to make us a light to the nations. That way, like John the Baptist, the name of the Lord will be glorified through our names. Amen.