The Forerunner

When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child
she gave birth to a son.
Her neighbors and relatives heard
that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her,
and they rejoiced with her.
When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child,
they were going to call him Zechariah after his father,
but his mother said in reply,
“No. He will be called John.”
But they answered her,
“There is no one among your relatives who has this name.”
So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.
He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,”
and all were amazed.
Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed,
and he spoke blessing God.
Then fear came upon all their neighbors,
and all these matters were discussed
throughout the hill country of Judea.
All who heard these things took them to heart, saying,
“What, then, will this child be?”
For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.
The child grew and became strong in spirit,
and he was in the desert until the day
of his manifestation to Israel.
(Luke 1:57-66, 80)

Scripture Study

1:57–66 The birth and circumcision of John above all emphasize John’s incorporation into the people of Israel by the sign of the covenant (Gn 17:1–12). The narrative of John’s circumcision also prepares the way for the subsequent description of the circumcision of Jesus in Lk 2:21. At the beginning of his two-volume work Luke shows those who play crucial roles in the inauguration of Christianity to be wholly a part of the people of Israel. At the end of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 21:20; 22:3; 23:6–9; 24:14–16; 26:2–8, 22–23) he will argue that Christianity is the direct descendant of Pharisaic Judaism.

1:59 The practice of Palestinian Judaism at this time was to name the child at birth; moreover, though naming a male child after the father is not completely unknown, the usual practice was to name the child after the grandfather. The naming of the child John and Zechariah’s recovery from his loss of speech should be understood as fulfilling the angel’s announcement to Zechariah in Lk 1:13, 20.

Scripture Reflection

Friends, today’s Gospel celebrates the birth of John the Baptist. I think it’s fair to say that you cannot really understand Jesus without understanding John, which is precisely why all four evangelists tell the story of the Baptist as a kind of overture to the story of Jesus. John did not draw attention to himself. Rather, he presented himself as a preparation, as a forerunner, a prophet preparing the way of the Lord. He was summing up much of Israelite history, but stressing that this history was open-ended, unfinished.

And therefore, how powerful it was when, upon spying Jesus coming to be baptized, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God.” No first century Israelite would have missed the meaning of that: behold the one who has come to be sacrificed. Behold the sacrifice, which will sum up, complete, and perfect the temple. Moreover, behold the Passover lamb, who sums up the whole meaning of that event and brings it to fulfillment.

And this is why John says, “He must increase and I must decrease.” In other words, the overture is complete; and now the great opera begins. The preparatory work of Israel is over, and now the Messiah will reign.

– Bishop Robert Barron

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.