My Dear People,
The birth of John the Baptist is one of the rare few feasts that celebrate the birth of an individual. Usually the feast day is celebrated at the day of death, (the day they entered Paradise). This is different. It was predicted by the prophets that a precursor of the Messiah would come before. John the Baptist is the precursor of the Messiah.
The prophets tell us of how God had planned for the redemption of Israel. The first reading of today shows us God’s plan. In Isaiah 49 the first song we are told of the Servant of the Lord (42:1-9); we meet the “servant” for the first time and we are told of his mission to liberate the exiles. In this second song, the servant himself speaks. He addresses the “coastlands”, “people from afar”, and he is conscious of having been chosen by God from his mother’s womb to carry out God’s plan of salvation even in those distant parts. Here we are told about two aspects of his mission, which we will hear more about in the oracles that follow. First, he is to play a leading role in the recovery of the tribes and the repatriation of the exiles (v 5): second, he will extend salvation to the ends of the earth (v. 6).
This poem contains things that the servant must say about himself, and things that God says about the servant (vs, 5-6). The servant is well aware that he was called by God, even from his mother’s womb (like Jeremiah) and has been charged with preaching to the pagan people (the coastlands) or at least his compatriots in the diaspora; he has been endowed with qualities that enable him to speak out, with words that find their mark like arrows, even if that creates division; and despite the divine protection given him, he feels depressed and disappointed, as happened to Jeremiah. Everything that the servant does is grounded on what the Lord has told him: “You are my servant, Israel” (v.3).
In vv. 5-6 the Lord spells out the servant’s mission: it is to renew the people in such a way that even non-Israelites can see the light and attain salvation. Although the universal mission of the servant is not clearly defined here, for his work is meant to be confined to the tribes of Jacob, still the achievement of this objective (the resembling of Israel) will be a kind of light to help the pagan nations see and acknowledge God.
To sum up, the servant of the Lord has been chosen by God, who loves him most specially; he has all the main qualities of a prophet; and he must influence his compatriots to enlighten those from outside, and bring them to salvation.
In the Gospel we hear the story of the naming of John, whose name was told to Zechariah and Elizabeth by the angel Gabriel. Zechariah did not believe the angel (who appeared to him in the temple at the hour of incense) therefore he was rendered mute until the time he wrote on the tablet at John’s circumcision “His name is John,” then his tongue was loosened. This indicates how God worked powerfully and had chosen John to be the precursor of the Messiah and be that voice in the wilderness-- a voice calling the people to repentance because the Kingdom of God was at hand.
In Jesus’ name,
Fr. Vincent Clemente