The Birth of John
What is in a name? When a friend of mine got pregnant, she and her husband began to discuss possible names for their child, even my name was included. Some of the names listed were even strange and these were names their child, I’m sure, would be ashamed of when growing up. Their parents even suggested giving their child names of saints as the Church strongly suggests so that this saint can become the model of Christian life for the child.
For the Jews and even in ancient times, a person’s name is important. It is because this carries all his life and determines his own identity, his character and the task and program this person should perform in life. Like for example, Angel Gabriel told the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph to name the Child in the womb of the Virgin as “Yeshu” or Jesus which means, “God saves.” This is the program and the task why Jesus became man, that is, in order to save us from sin and death. For us, we may realize more its importance especially in official documents. We may have string of troubles, in going to school, applying for jobs and getting passport when the spelling of our names is wrong.
Today’s gospel reading we are presented an event in the life of Zechariah and Elizabeth when they are about to give a name to their child. Some of their relatives and neighbors wanted the child to bear the name of his father. But they insist to name their child as John because that is what Angel Gabriel told to Zechariah, to name their child, John. The meaning of the name, John or “Jehonanan” in Hebrew, is ‘God is gracious.’ And so therefore, this is the program and task John has received, that is, to announce to all people that God is indeed gracious and is about to save us from sin and death through His Son, Jesus. He would pave the way for Jesus, a herald of Christ and guided the people to Christ.
The name John which means ‘God is gracious’ will lead us to reflect on the graciousness of God. There was this atheist who said, “If there is a God, may he prove himself by striking me dead right now.” Nothing happened. “You see, there is no God.” Somebody responded: “You have only proved that He is a gracious God.”
But why God became man? One reason could be: to save us. But there is another reason why God became man. Jesus, in St. John’s gospel, says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” This means that God gives His Son as a gift in the incarnation and also over to death in the crucifixion because of His great love for us. And so the other reason why God became man, it is because he loves us.
What will be our response to God’s graciousness and love to us? Our response can be of being obedient to Him. When God plans something, His plans have to be followed by us up to the last detail. His word has to be believed. That is why Zechariah lost his speech because he doubted the words of the angel that his wife would bear a son even in her old age. In addition to this, Fr. Erasio Flores, SVD said in his homily that conforming to God’s plan is not easy. This had been the cause of the downfall of the angels (Rev. 12:7), of the fall of our first parents in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:1), of troubles and conflicts between husband and wife and within the family and of wars between peoples and nations. To conform one’s will to that of another is most difficult. But whatever there is conformity of wills, there is peace, there is harmony, there is sharing, there is love. When one entrusts himself totally into God’s hands, things can only go right. This is what St. Paul wanted to express in Romans 8:28: “We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love Him, whom he has called according to his plan.”
Let us always remember now that God is always at work around us; God pursues a continuing love relationship with us that is real and personal and we come to know God by experience as we obey Him and as He accomplishes His work through us.