24 June 2007


Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist
Lk 1:57-66, 80

Today we have an exception. We celebrate today the birth of St. John the Baptist, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. The celebration of his birthday is an exception from the Church’s usual liturgical norm. Usually, the Church celebrates the feast of a saint on the day of his or her death, not on his or her birthday. We observe the day of a saint’s death as feast because it is that saint’s day of entrance into heaven. Aside from John the Baptist, the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary is also an exception to this liturgical rule.

Today is an exception not only because we are celebrating today the birthday of John the Baptist rather than his day of death. Today is an exception because the liturgy for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time gives way to the observance of John the Baptist’s birth. This is so because the birth of John the Baptist has the liturgical rank of a solemnity. According to liturgical norms, when a solemnity falls on a Sunday, the usual Sunday Mass gives way to the observance of the solemnity. That is exactly what happens today.

Thus, today we have an exception. Our exception is John the Baptist.

John the Baptist, cousin of Jesus Christ, was already an exception even before we made the observance of his birthday an exception. But he was not an exception simply because he was the cousin of the Lord. John the Baptist was an exception for three more important reasons.

First, Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist not only in her old age but also despite the fact that she was barren. He was not a menopausal baby; he was an infertility baby. John’s birth was an impossibility. But with God, for whom nothing is impossible, John the Baptist became a possibility and, as we celebrate today, an actuality, a reality. He was conceived not only by a virgin’s womb, as in the case of the Lord Jesus, but by a barren womb. He was given birth not only by a young maiden but also by an aging woman. In this regard alone, John was already an exception.

Second, it was God who chose his name. In ancient times as well as today, parents are usually the ones who choose their children’s name. But John’s case is different. As his conception and birth were exceptions, so was his name. There was no one in his clan who had the same name as his.

Scriptural characters attached great importance to names because they believed that a person’s name expressed their hopes for a child’s future. But in some cases, as we have today in the Gospel, God Himself decided on the name. When He did so, it expressed more than a hope; it was God’s promise for the child’s future. Thus, the name “John,” meaning, “God has shown mercy,” sums up John’s calling. In the first place, his coming into the life of his parents was a clear sign of God’s mercy to them whose childlessness in those days was a source of painful shame. In fact, for Zechariah, the prospect of a son was a news so good that he doubted it could be true. Mercy never fails to surprise its recipient. Later on in John the Baptist’s life, his very presence among the Israelites, preparing “a people fit for the Lord,” was an expression of God’s mercy.

God’s mercy is always an exception because it does not follow the natural logic of things. As St. Paul says in Rom 5:16, “…after many transgressions came justification.” Mercy is a gratuitous gift. It is totally unmerited, and though the receiver does not deserve it, mercy is given nonetheless. For if mercy is merited, it is not mercy at all. John’s name and role in the history of salvation remain up to our days reminders of how mercy is an exception to the rule.

Third, because John’s father, Zechariah, was a priest in the Temple, he was, due to lineage, a Jewish priest himself. John should have practiced Judaic priesthood, keeping himself busy in the affairs of the Temple. The temple for him though was the desert and his preoccupation was preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins rather than offering incense in the Holy of Holies. As the priests in the Temple were offering sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins over and over again, John was shouting over and over again in the wilderness that that forgiveness was already and is always waiting to embrace those who come to ask for it with contrite hearts. John was an exception from his father’s priestly clan not only because of his name but also because of his ministry. His father was a priest; he was a preacher. While his father was offering sacrifices to win God’s mercy, John was already offering God’s mercy instead.

The birth of John the Baptist broke the long silence of God. For a very long time, there were no prophets in Israel. When God decided to break His silence, He sent His people a prophet who reminded them of His mercy. Truly, as Zechariah said in his canticle when John was named, God “has raised up for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of His servant, David.” That Savior is Jesus, God’s Word of peace. But before He raised up for us a mighty Savior, God has first raised up for us the greatest prophet, about whom, even Jesus said in Mt 11:11 and Lk 7:28, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” Today, we take exception in celebrating the birth of this greatest prophet of God.

John the Baptist was God’s miracle of mercy, God’s gift of mercy, and God’s prophet of mercy. In him, we behold how impossible things can happen because of mercy, how we should understand mercy, and how we must respond to mercy. As mercy is always an exception to the rule justice, so is the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist an exception to Church’s liturgical rule.

In our society, where countless people want to be exempted from this or that law, let us, as disciples of Jesus Christ, strive even more to be exceptions from a world where justice can be very brutal and mercy can be very weak. Let us surprise the world with God’s mercy. Let us be God’s mercy to all. Through us, may God, who once showed His mercy by the birth of John the Baptist, show His mercy over and over again.


At 7:47 PM , Anonymous honey-grnblt said...

This gave me a clearer perspective of St. John. Thanks, Father.

At 8:22 PM , Anonymous Bubut said...

Father God, thank you for giving to us St. John the baptist. who prepared the way for your Son. Bless us with the boldness just like St. John in proclaiming your Word.

God bless po.


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