At first reading there appears to be an evident contradiction (or paradox) between THIS SUNDAY’S OLD TESTAMENT READING [ISAIAH 56: 1. 6 - 7] and the GOSPEL [MATTHEW 15: 21...
The immediate and essential importance of John the Baptist is clearly indicated by the first appearances of his name in the Gospel narratives. Mark and John mention him within the first few verses of their respective opening chapters. Matthew, at the start of his third chapter, names the Baptist as a preacher, witness or proclaimer, and links this with Jesus appearance to commence his public ministry. Luke records his birth and naming in THIS SUNDAYS GOSPEL EXTRACT [1:57 – 66. 80].
Do not overlook the fact that Luke had referred to Johns coming birth in his earlier record of Gabriels encounter with Mary (THE ANNUNCIATION – 1:26 ff). It is also interesting to note that both the Annunciation and the birth of the Baptist were the catalyst of the first two great Gospel canticles of praise – the Magnificat (1: 46 – 55) and the Benedictus (1: 69 – 79).
The birth and ministry of JOHN THE BAPTIST is deeply integrated into the birth and ministry of Jesus Christ. Here it is imperative we bear in mind that Jesus name was given to him by Gabriel, and Johns by his father, Zachariah. Jesus and John had a CALL!
At once we must reflect on the importance of any naming…. the names we are called by – and the often unkind names people can call each other.
Each name tells a story! Every name is a CALL. Each one of us were named at Baptism. We, each one of us, have a baptismal story to tell and proclaim. This story must include our call to NAME JESUS CHRIST.
In this context take a look at the closing sentence of this Sundays Gospel extract. “And he lived out in the wilderness until the day he appeared openly to Israel.” It is a mistake to confine our image of John to the wilderness, to his peculiar dress, and strange diet. His call was to appear openly to Israel.
Like the Baptist it matters little where we live or, indeed, how we dress. What does matter is whether we appear openly to our world as Christians? Do we all not, at times (too often?), camouflage (dress) our faith and religion? Forget about our diets …. what about our witness when the remains of our parties are thrown into the dustbin, and the hungry person who rings our security gate is brushed off with some feeble excuse?
There is a real and urgent need for each one of us to be far more pro-active in the way we present ourselves to our world as both Christian and Catholic. As far as the catholic aspect is concerned, I realise that there are times when the bureaucracy of the Church and the real scandals which are always with us make this difficult. However, we must never allow our righteous indignation and dissatisfactions to blind us to the very valuable and special possessions we do have. We can all become so proficient in seeing the faults and failings, bemoaning the often sheer stupidities, that we ignore the rich tradition which IS always around us.
In all of this we need to personalise (make a personal application to ourselves as individuals) the other Scriptures presented to us this Sunday.[ISAIAH 49: 1 – 6] – “The Lord called me before I was born, from my mothers womb he pronounced my name. … he said to me You are my servant .” The moment we forget our baptismal calling, our naming, and the fact that we are SERVANTS, we end up in debilitating situations. [PSALM 138 or 139] – “You discern my purpose … knit me together …. my ways lie open to you … no secret from you.” Each one of us has a purpose, and the Lord knows when we are attempting to embark on a course of camouflage. [ACTS 13: 22 – 26] – “I have selected David, son of Jesse (notice the two names !), a man after my own heart, who will carry out my purpose.” King David, as we know, was far from being a saint! However, he always knew his purpose and call. Over and over again he acknowledged his failures and returned to the basics.
Each one of us has been named. Each one is a person after the Lords own heart.