24 June 2009. Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Isaiah 49, 1-6; Psalm 139; Acts 13, 22-26; Luke 1: 57-66, 80
The Nativity of St. John the Baptist reminds me of my birthplace and the people who have been the “John the Baptists” of my life. The role of John the Baptist in the history of salvation is pivotal. It connects the Jewish past with both Zechariah and Elizabeth who come from the priestly tribe; they were blameless in the observance of the Mosaic law. But this elderly couple who have been open to be surprised by God knows that something is on the way, that God will soon intervene in history. That their son, who is a ‘surprise gift’, will help change history. The people also see this surprise. They are awed by John’s birth and naming. They know that Zechariah’s ability to speak again has a far deeper meaning. Zechariah thus proclaims a canticle (called the Benedictus), a hymn of praise, and also a prophecy. Prophecy in Scripture does not mean a foretelling of a future, but a ‘revelation from God of a deeper meaning of events’. Zechariah now sees that God remembers his people and has come to fulfill His promise of salvation.
Every child is a bundle of surprise. A Greek teacher would always make a bow whenever a student enters his class. He said that you will never know what that child will become someday. When celebrating the nativity of John the Baptist, we all go back to our birthplace and recall the stories about our beginnings. Perhaps it is beneficial to us to see how we have become since childhood. Have we contributed to make the world a better place?
Moreover, the celebration today conjures memories of people who have been the John the Baptists in my life. My parent’s patron saint is John the Baptist. Our pharmacy before was named after him. Every night, my mother would lead the rosary and would ask St. John to lead and guide our family in our journey in life towards the Lord. Our parish until today is named after him. Under the Franciscans during my time, they helped nurture my sense of service through music. Eventually what the Franciscans began paved the way for a priestly vocation. Thus, my parents and the Franciscans prepared the way for the Lord in my life.
Furthermore it tells us that we can all be like John the Baptist to other people. The first reading is about the call of the Servant. Though commentaries are not so sure whether it refers to an individual, to Israel itself, or to a prophet, they all agree that the mission is to restore Israel, to gather people together and to set things right in the eyes of God. In the light of John the Baptist, the second reading says, that he begins to gather people by proclaiming to them that the coming of the Messiah is at hand.
Service that prepares people for a future that is God-fearing is noble. We find chances to be prophets like John the Baptist. Parents, teachers, catechists, worship leaders, and ordinary men and women are asked to become ‘prophets’ --- to be able to preach the good news by reflecting and helping people to reflect on the deeper meaning of the events in our present history.
In some parts of the Philippines whose patron is St. John the Baptist, it is a tradition to throw water at people to remind them that John baptized at the River Jordan. To me, the most important is to remember our baptism where God has commissioned us to be prophets in the world today --- to see God in all the events of our present life.