Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Baptist's Birthday

The Liturgy invites us to notice a wonderful newborn. Elizabeth’s had a baby, at her age. And Zechariah who had been speechless for months now names his son John and his tongue is loosed. He then breaks out in praise of God and prophecy of his little son’s future mission. All are amazed and rejoice with them. The tone and content of today’s Gospel all speak to us of God's amazing breakthrough on his people’s behalf in a new and unprecedented way. There is hope and promise.

And if the Scripture in the Liturgy presents us with the great question: “What will this child be?” The Liturgy has the rather tragic answer for us as well. With the hindsight of Liturgy, we know all too well what will become of baby John. (This too will be occasion for a liturgical celebration at the end of August. We’ll be in red then though, for John is going to lose his head.) John’s weakness for speaking the truth will be his undoing. A mad divorcee’s rage, her daughter’s dancing and a drunken fool’s vow, showing off to guests at his birthday party, and John’s head will end up on a platter. What will this child be? We know all too well. Liturgy lets us look in both directions.

Saint John the Baptist, c. 1230,  North Portal, Chartres Cathedral.