The birth of John the Baptist is a most significant landmark in the history of salvation. He will be the herald of God’s loving mercy. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.
57 The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; 58 and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had shown her so great a kindness, they shared her joy.
59 Now on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother spoke up. ‘No,’ she said, ‘he is to be called John.’ 61 They said to her, ‘But no one in your family has that name,’ 62 and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called. 63 The father asked for a writing tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they were all astonished. 64 At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. 65 All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. 66 All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him. 80 The child grew up and his spirit matured. And he lived out in the wilderness until the day he appeared openly to Israel.
Other readings: Isaiah 49:1-6 Psalm 138 (139) Acts 13:22-26
The Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist takes precedence over the ordinary Sunday which we would otherwise be celebrating. The birth of the one who prepares the way for Christ is a most significant landmark in the history of salvation.
In the first two chapters of Luke’s gospel the births of John the Baptist and of Jesus are recounted. The birth of John, from elderly parents, is an extraordinary gift of God, but will be overshadowed by the birth of Jesus, conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Luke stresses the joy which accompanies these births.
On the day of circumcision and naming extraordinary events occur. Both his mother and his father know that he is to be called ‘John’, which means ‘God is compassionate.’ John’s father, Zechariah, loses his temporary muteness once he has confirmed Elizabeth’s insight that this child will be the herald of God’s loving mercy.
The people sense something extraordinary is happening. ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ As the gospel story unfolds, John the Baptist is shown to be the herald and baptiser of the Messiah and a great preacher of the truth. The Preface from today’s feast celebrates him as ‘chosen from all the prophets to show the world its redeemer’ and as ‘found worthy of a martyr’s death, his last and greatest act of witness’.
How does John’s name encapsulate his mission?
Recall the different features of John’s unique role in the history of salvation.
Pray for a deeper acceptance of the gift of salvation heralded by John the Baptist.
Pray for the strength to imitate John’s fidelity to the truth.
Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.
Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”
He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”
Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).
Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy