John the Baptist: Another great model
Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
June 24, 2012 (JBaptistB)
By Fr. JohnJ. Ludvik
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We celebrate the feast of John the Baptist's birth (June 24), in place of the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time today because of his prominent role in the history of salvation as the forerunner of the Messiah. It was he who prepared Israel to receive their long-awaited Messiah by preaching repentance.
Since John was the forerunner of Jesus who prepared Israel for their Messiah, the “Servant” Messianic prophecy of Isaiah is given as the first reading. The passage expresses important aspects of John’s career as a prophet to God’s people and a light to the nations who was named and sanctified from his mother’s womb. The second reading describes the mission of John the Baptist. It tells us how John the Baptist in all humility publicly acknowledged his role as being only the Messiah’s herald. His role was to prepare Israel to receive the Messiah by inviting the people to receive the baptism of repentance.
Today’s gospel describes the birth of John the Baptist and his circumcision and naming ceremony on the eighth day. In the presence of friends and relatives, Zechariah miraculously regained his power speech after declaring in writing, “John is his name.” The name John means “God is gracious.” The remaining part of the chapter 1 in St. Luke’s gospel describes records Zechariah’s prophecy of the role his son is to take in the history of salvation.
John’s birth: Since the birth of a boy was an occasion of great joy among the Jews, Zechariah’ s neighbors and relatives and local musicians gathered at the courtyard to celebrate the occasion. At the announcement of John’s birth there was great rejoicing and the musicians broke into music and songs. In Elizabeth's house there was a double joy because at last she had a child in her old age and because that child was a son.
Anecdote: Be the finger of John the Baptist: Karl Barth the great 20th century theologian would wake up early in the morning, read the newspaper, and stare at a painting by Grunewald called Crucifixion. Jesus is hanging from the cross, apparently dead, while Mary and others mourn. John the Baptist, holding the Scriptures and leaning away from Christ, is pointing to Jesus on the Cross.
Before he would teach theology or write in his famous work Church Dogmatics, Karl Barth would meditate on this painting, particularly on John the Baptist. He said that, as a Christian (whether a theologian, pastor, teacher, mother, doctor, storekeeper, etc.), our job is to be the finger (and only the finger), of John the Baptist. The only thing we should do – indeed, the only thing we can do – is simply point to Jesus on the cross. The scene painted by Grunewald is the sum of all history, from Creation in the past to eternity. And we are that finger, and within that finger rests the weight of salvation.
Let us ask St John the Baptist with humility and insistence that our parents, educators and priests be always, in the fulfillment of their duties, “forerunners and witnesses” of Jesus Christ.
Remember the past to live the present, and look with hope towards the future. In the history of one’s own family, the school where we were taught, the parish to which we belong, and the nation in which we live, we are the last in a long chain of men and women who have preceded us and been forerunners and witnesses of Christ – perhaps through many generations.
The feast of St John the Baptist is a good moment to remember so many people who in the history of Israel prepared the ways of the Lord, and to remember so many people who in our own history have been forerunners and witnesses of our faith and hope. We need to keep alive and transmit to the future generations the memory of the authenticity of their faith, of their mature and convinced Christian life, and of their true holiness. Thus we will also be “forerunners” of Christ, just as He wants to live and be present in future generations. We will be witnesses of someone who does not just pass by, but lives forever and who makes himself present among people with “new faces,” who respond to the circumstances and needs of each epoch and each generation.
During this Fortnight to Freedom, John the Baptist is another great model. As we move toward the Fourth of July, may each of us continue to revere and to pray for religious freedom in our country.