THURSDAY, TWELFTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
SOLEMNITY OF THE NATIVITY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
Is 49: 1-6; Ps 139: 1-3,13-15; Acts 13: 22-26; Lk 1: 57-66,80
BORN TO BE SPECIAL IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD
In the Church we usually celebrate the death day of the saints as their feast day. This norm has three exceptions, when we celebrate the earthly birthday. Besides Jesus (December 25 or Christmas) and Mary (September 8), we have only St John the Baptist, the Precursor of Jesus (June 24) among the saints. Also, this solemnity is one of the few that has a special Vigil Mass, with a separate set of readings. His martyrdom is also celebrated on 29th of August. This is the importance given to St John the Baptist by the Church.
John the Baptist and Jesus were cousins. Their age difference was just six months. In the gospel of Luke, the stories of John the Baptist and Jesus run parallel, but the latter is always presented as superior. About Jesus, John the Baptist would say: “I baptize you in water as a sign of your conversion, but the one who is coming after me is more powerful than I; indeed I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mt 3:11). The culmination is the encounter between the two, when hesitantly, John baptizes Jesus (cf. Mt 3:13-17).
Today as we commemorate the birth of John, let us reflect on what the relatives and neighbours exclaimed when they came for his circumcision on the eight day, which we read in the gospel: “What will this child turn out to be?” (Lk 1:66). That question lies at the back of every parent’s mind as they gaze with wonder at their new-born babe. True, thousands of babies are born every day. Even so, each one is unique, special, not only to its parents, but especially to God. He has a different plan for each of us, which no one else can fulfil. Some parents want the child to fulfil their own ambitions and desires. They force their decisions on their children. They do not allow their children to discern what God has planned for them.
Zechariah, John’s father, was a priest. He was from the priestly clan of Aaron. In the Old Testament, this office was hereditary (assigned to the tribe of Levi). Like his father Zechariah, John was supposed to lead the priestly life. He was to render service in the temple offering sacrifices and other rituals. His job was to intercede with God on behalf of the people. But John the Baptist did not follow in his father’s footsteps and become a priest. Instead, John spent much of his life in the desert away from society. He realized that he was to give witness to the eternal priest, Jesus. He was called to be a prophet and the precursor to the Messiah, which he fulfilled to the best of his ability. He had to play an important role in the history of salvation and he played that role well. His parents did not stand in his way. Are we ready to allow our children grow freely according to the plan of God?
Now let us focus on his ministry as a prophet. Who is a prophet? Traditionally prophets are supposed to be people who foresee and predict what will happen in the future. And we know that many prophets spoke in the name of God and things unfolded in the future, just as they predicted or described them. But more than that, a prophet is the one who advocates a genuinely alternative vision. There is the dominant worldly vision which often leads people to their own destruction. A prophet is one who is enlightened by God to instruct the people and help them choose a different path, which leads to life. He is able to interpret the present and think of alternatives. Prophets are not mere critics of the way things are, they help people imagine new possibilities. John the Baptist fits this portrait well. We see him offering alternatives to various categories: the multitudes, tax collectors and soldiers (cf. Lk 3:7-14). How are we fulfilling the prophetic role that we have received on the day of our baptism?
While all the other prophets had foretold the coming of the Messiah, John the Baptist could point out and say, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29). That is the uniqueness of John. We too, in our own way, have to be pointers to Christ. In whatever way we can, we have to lead people to him. Are we fulfilling that role?
Response: I thank you who wonderfully made me.
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