We celebrate today the nativity of John the Baptist, the prequel to Jesus Christ. We know John. We know of his jumping in the womb of Elizabeth when her cousin Mary, pregnant with the Messiah, went to visit. We know his living in the wilderness eating honey and locusts. We know his baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River. We know his stating that One comes after him whose sandal straps he is not worthy to tie.
We know these truths of John’s life that attest to his faith in and passion for Jesus the Messiah. And yet, in our Gospel passage, the one who is gifted revelation is John’s father Zechariah. It is he I wish to highlight today.
Zechariah, from verse 6 of this chapter, is a righteous man. Upon the birth of his son, he understands that God is bringing fulfillment of His promises told in Genesis and Malachi. God’s pursuit of His promise of salvation for His people has not been forgotten. Quite the contrary, God is completing that promise through a significantly unlikely situation: an old man and his barren wife.
But, it is this unlikely situation that needs a bit of teasing out in order for us to appreciate what happens with Zechariah in our Gospel. So that we may understand, I would like to rewind Luke’s gospel to the first chapter. Zechariah is visited by the Archangel Gabriel who states that Zechariah and Elizabeth will have a son. Upon hearing this news, Zechariah voices disbelief based on the facts of his life and marriage. Gabriel silenced Zechariah in return for the lack of faith until his son was born.
Zechariah was given a word that defied all physical understanding. He voiced his doubt of “How in the world could this be happening?!” much like we would given the same circumstances. And yet, Zechariah and Elizabeth prayed for many years for this very gift. They prayed to be blessed with a child. Their prayers, however, appeared unanswered. It was St. Jerome who reflected, “Your prayer is heard. You are given more than you asked for. You prayed for the salvation of the people, and you have been given the Precursor.” We do not criticize Zechariah. No, we understand his reaction. We sympathize with his feelings of disbelief. He makes sense to us because so often we are right where he is. We forget. What we see is stronger than what we are told.
The moment that Zechariah went wrong was not in his skepticism that the message had come from God but in his placing their current physical situations ahead of the abilities of the Almighty God. As a result, he had five months without the gift of speech to consider his mistake.
So, when his son is born, he reclaims his faith. He accepts God’s faithfulness and fulfilling Grace. St. Ambrose said, “With good reason was his tongue loosed, because faith untied what had been tied by disbelief.” And in the acclamation of Zechariah, he dedicates his son back to the Lord by saying, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God.”
And, like Zechariah, when we forget, let us remember the words of our teacher St. Josemariá Escrivá who said, “There is a story about a beggar meeting Alexander the Great and asking him for alms. Alexander stopped and instructed that the man be given the government of five cities. The beggar, totally confused and taken aback, exclaimed, ‘I didn’t ask for as much as that.’ And Alexander replied, ‘you asked like the man you are; I give like the man I am.’”
Let us pray:
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imagination, so control our will, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.