God’s saving plan
June 22, 2012
By Father Timothy Schehr
Nativity of John the Baptist: Isaiah 49:1-6; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66, 80
At the Annunciation the angel Gabriel gave Mary wonderful news about her cousin. Elizabeth was already “in her sixth month.” So this date, half a year before the birth of Jesus, is the traditional date for John’s arrival.
Luke takes us into the household of Elizabeth and Zechariah on the day they are to name their son. We hear the excited voices of relatives and friends, all of them thinking what a great idea it is to name the child after his father. Elizabeth shatters their plans by announcing that their son will have a name outside the family tradition. Refusing to surrender their position, the guests turn to Zechariah to learn his opinion on the matter.
At this point Zechariah’s powers of speech return because he is determined to use the language of faith. This was a language he was not speaking nine months earlier when the angel Gabriel appeared to him in the temple. Rather than seeing his life as paralleling in some way the life of Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah laughed at the idea of a child in their old age. But in this reading, things are different. His words of praise—the Benedictus — do not appear in the reading but they include the name Abraham. Zechariah has clearly been thinking. Now he understands that God’s promises to the patriarchs are being fulfilled in his lifetime.
The entire thrust of the reading promotes trust in God’s word and cooperation with the Holy Spirit. Luke will return to this theme in his account of Pentecost. Although Peter speaks to a crowd filled with people from different language backgrounds they all grasp his message. Language is no barrier at all. Just like Zechariah in the Gospel reading, Peter is saying things that promote a stronger bond with God. John grew and became “strong in spirit.” This may have been due in no small part to the influence a faith-filled Zechariah had on his son — a wonderful lesson for any family.
Trust in God is the theme of the first reading too. We hear words from yet another faith-filled person. This time it is the suffering servant. He speaks of himself as a sword and an arrow. God has given him the power to strike down whatever stands in the way of God‘s saving plan. The servant admits that at one time he had misgivings. He thought his efforts were without result. It seems he had forgotten success could not be measured by earthly standards but by the standards of heaven.
Now he sees the mysterious power of God at work in his world. So successful was the servant that God will see to it that what the servant did for his own people He will now do also for the nations of the world. His words will guide them back to God just as they guided the tribes of Israel.
We find this same theme in the second reading. Once more God’s saving plan unfolds in ways that go beyond human expectations. In the reading Paul is preaching during his first missionary journey. His theme is the Messiah promised from the royal line of David. John the Baptist was the herald of this savior. But he was a herald only. He made it clear to everyone he spoke to that he was not the one. Someone greater than he was coming. Just as John as open to the something new. It is no less true for Paul’s audience. Something new has taken place. Paul and Barnabas have good news for them. The word of salvation is the very thing they are hearing.
Father Schehr is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio/Mount St. Mary’s Seminary.