Summary: Year C. The Nativity of St. John The Baptist Luke 1: 57-66, 80 June 24th, 2001 Title: “When God names a person”
Year C. The Nativity of St. John The Baptist Luke 1: 57-66, 80 June 24th, 2001
Title: “When God names a person”
This is story of the birth of John, his circumcision, naming, and manifestation to relatives and neighbors along with a notice of his eventual manifestation to all of Israel.
Luke tells the story of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus and John by setting them side by side each other. Such a technique enables him to highlight the unique role each will have in God’s plan and to show Jesus as superior to John in just about every detail. If the angel Gabriel announces the birth of John to the husband, Zechariah, of the barren Elizabeth, he announces the birth of Jesus directly to the virgin Mary. Then Mary visits Elizabeth, who joyfully witnesses to the incomparable superiority of the baby in Mary’s womb compared to the one in her own. Mary sings a canticle and so does Zechariah. Both sons are divinely named before their birth and circumcision, although their names are not made public until eight days had passed. There are many other parallels as well. However, Luke clearly wants to show that Jesus, not John, is the Messiah. He also wants to show, at the outset of his gospel, what he will show in his second volume, Acts, that there are also parallel patterns between the life of Jesus and the lives of his disciples. The first two chapters of Luke are not only an overture to the Gospel but to Acts as well. John the Baptist stands for two truths in the New Testament. First, he is the model for all Christians who prepare for the final coming of Christ as John did for his first coming. Second, he stands as the model for the one person or several persons who are the means by which God prepares each Christian to convert to Christ. As such John the Baptist is a very important figure for Christians.
In verse fifty-seven, when the time arrived…she gave birth to a son: Luke sees God’s plan unfolding, but only in its proper time or “timing” time, Greek kairos, which both respects the earthly laws of time, Greek chronos, and God’s timetable, the “fullness” of time. That Elizabeth bore a son as it was prophesied she would underlines God’s fidelity, that is, He delivers on His word of promise, and His mercy, that is, He not only removed the stigma of barrenness from Elizabeth but also gave her a son, her only son, to carry on the family name. The latter, of course, would not in fact happen. This son will neither be named after a family member, nor will he marry and sire children. However, for now, the possibility is there and is cause for rejoicing.
In verse fifty-eight, Her neighbors and relatives…shared her joy: Joy would be the hallmark of the kingdom Jesus would establish and John would prepare the people of Israel to accept. This joy radiates out from the yet-to-be-born John in Elizabeth’s womb, to Elizabeth and Zechariah, to relatives and neighbors, to all of Israel.
In verse fifty-nine, …on the eighth day to circumcise the child: Circumcision marks John, as it will Jesus, with the “sign of the covenant” Genesis 17: 11, and incorporates him into Israel. Circumcision also meant the eventual obligation of observing Mosaic Law. Since Luke will stress in his second volume, Acts, that Christianity is a logical outgrowth of Judaism, both the circumcision of John and Jesus are important to note in this “overture” section.
Would have named him Zechariah after his father: The child, of course, was already named by God. In fact, even without that , it was Jewish custom to name a child at birth, not at circumcision. This ceremony would be similar to infant Christian baptism where the parents are asked to announce the child’s name, a name given at birth, but given new meaning at this ceremony of initiation into the community. Furthermore, it was customary to name a firstborn son after his grandfather rather than his father, although this practice may have been on the wane by this time, since none of the disciples of Jesus appear to be named after either their father or grandfather. Much has been made of these discrepancies in scholarly circles, but they do not matter. The story tells itself. The point is that the conception and birth of the child ran contrary to human expectations and traditions and so did his naming, all thanks to the mercy of God.
In verse sixty, No. He will be called John: We are not told how Elizabeth came to know the divinely given name. The most likely scenario is that Zechariah used the writing tablet to communicate it to her privately, but the question is unimportant. Elizabeth is following God’s plan over human preferences. “John,” Hebrew Yohanan, means “God has shown favor” or “God is merciful.” It is really an Old Testament expression. Not all human names, only those divinely bestowed, indicate a person’s character or mission. This child will be graced, his special character will be “in the Spirit,” and his mission will be to bring the mercy of God to all in Israel who will accept it.