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A Scripture Reflection for the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

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by Stephen Bevans, SVD | June 23, 2018

A Scripture Reflection for the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
June 24, 2018

Readings:

 

First Reading: Isaiah 49:1-6

Psalm: 139: 1-3, 13-14, 14-15

Second Reading: Acts of the Apostles 13:22-26

Gospel: Luke 1: 57-66, 80

 

 

SHARP-EDGED SWORDS, POLISHED ARROWS, LIGHTS TO THE NATIONS

When the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to conceive Jesus, he mentioned that Elizabeth was also pregnant, and was in her “sixth month.” Since we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation on March 25, it would be natural to celebrate the birth of Elizabeth’s child three months later—and so today’s feast on June 24. Controversially, and against all tradition, they didn’t name him after his father Zechariah, but gave him the name that Gabriel had commanded him.  Accordingly, the called him “John,” which in Hebrew means “God is gracious.”

The gospel today from the beginning of Luke recounts the story of John’s controversial and untraditional naming, and the second reading from the Acts of the Apostles offers a thumbnail sketch of John’s ministry. John heralded Jesus coming, he proclaimed that he was not the Messiah, and that he was “unworthy to unfasten the sandals” of the Messiah’s feet. What is perhaps more striking, however, is the choice of today’s first reading from one of the “Servant Songs” of the prophet Isaiah. This particular servant song is usually interpreted to refer to Jesus, and appears as the first reading on Tuesday of Holy Week. Today, however, it clearly is interpreted to refer to John. John is the one called from birth, given his name from his mother’s womb, the one whom God has made “a sharp-edged sword … a polished arrow … a light to the nations.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised by this interpretation, though. After all, scholars tell us that the Servant Songs were as much about the entire people of Israel as they were about one person. That might mean, then, that they could apply to any and all of God’s people, since God chose individuals in Israel’s history to be “prophets of the Most High,” and God called the entire people of Israel to be the same, to be signs of the blessing that was in store for all the peoples of the earth.

What might be surprising, though, is that we might interpret these Servant Songs, and the one we read in our first reading today, as applying to us. As members of God’s new people, the church, we are called as well to be sharp-edged swords, polished arrows, lights to the nations. We are called to be other John the Baptists, who, unworthy to unfasten the sandals of Jesus’ feet, nevertheless witness to him and prepare his way. As our psalm response reminds us today as we pray Psalm 139, God has formed our inmost being and knit us in our mother’s womb. We are indeed “fearfully, wonderfully made.”

How we are to live this all out, of course, is not the same. Some of us are called to live out our discipleship by being good business people, or excellent craftsmen, or creative artists, or loving wives or husbands, or self-giving parents. Others of us might be called to various kinds of ministry in the church, as lay, or religious, or ordained, and to do this in commitment to social justice, or to leading Christians in prayer, or in giving retreats, or in enhancing the beauty of liturgy with our musical gifts. All of us, though, are “Catholics on Call,” and a worthy way to celebrate this feast of John the Baptist is to renew our own commitment to preparing the Lord’s way in our world. 

 

Steve Bevans, SVD

 

The above image is from the Public Domain.

 

Author information Stephen Bevans, SVD

Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD, Professor Emeritus of Mission and Culture
S.T.B., S.T.L., Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome; M.A., Ph.D., University of Notre Dame; Study: University of Cambridge

Steve Bevans is a priest in the missionary congregation of the Society of the Divine Word and Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD, Professor Emeritus of Mission and Culture.

After completing his Licentiate in Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1972, he served as a missionary to the Philippines until 1981. In 1986 he received a Ph.D. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame and has taught at CTU since that time, officially retiring from the faculty in 2015.

He is the author or co-author of six books and editor or co-editor of eleven, including Models of Contextual Theology (2002), Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today (2004), and An Introduction to Theology in Global Perspective (2009). In 2013, he edited A Century of Catholic Mission, and, in 2015, with Cathy Ross, Mission on the Road to Emmaus: Constants, Context, and Prophetic Dialogue.

He is a member of the World Council of Churches' Commission on World Mission and Evangelism.

sbevans@ctu.edu


Books written by Steve Bevans

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