Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist
Luke 1:57-66, 80
Today is the feast day of the birth of John the Baptist. The memory of John the Baptist has been important in Christianity starting with Jesus. "Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet." "I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist. Mt 11:11
John the Baptist is mentioned some 92 times in New Testament. In today’s gospel there is importance given to his name: "His name is John." We know that in ancient times how a child was named was his description. For example, Nathanael (‘God has given [this child]’), and Shemaiah (‘Yahweh has heard [the parents’ prayer]’ Ichabod (‘where is the glory?’ 1 Sam. 4:19-22. The Ark was captured when he was born.) Menachem (‘comforter’).
The name John means God (Yahweh) plus gracious (chanan). "Yahweh is gracious." John was a gifted man. "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." Our lives begin with the programmed gifts of God. When we fail to recognize that our talents are gifts of God we fall into that ancient sin of pride.
We do this in basically two ways. First of all everything positively we have is a gift from God’s graciousness. We can and do enjoy the gift, but it is a gift given for God’s purposes and glory and not our own. In the second place when we get discouraged we forget that we are dealing with God’s gifts and equipment which are utterly reliable. This too is a sin of pride. We rely too much on ourselves and separate ego from the gift. One of our priests after hearing someone running himself down said: come on now, God did not do that bad of a job on you!
What a beautiful name is John! God is gracious. When my mother called me as a child I always could tell in what mood she was. If she called me my brother’s name, I knew I was in no immediate danger of correction. Mom was distracted. When she called me by my full first name, Robert John, I knew I was in for a correction. Mother in her own way was reminding me I was not aware of God’s gifts and better shape up!
Fr. Bob Weiss, C.P. preaches Parish Missions and is a member of the Passionist Community in Detroit, Michigan.