This blog follows the daily bible readings of the Catholic Church
Reading 1, Isaiah 49:1-6
1 Coasts and islands, listen to me, pay attention, distant peoples. The Lord called me when I was in the womb, before my birth he had pronounced my name. 2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword, he hid me in the shadow of his hand. He made me into a sharpened arrow and concealed me in his quiver.
3 He said to me, ‘Israel, you are my servant, through whom I shall manifest my glory.’
4 But I said, ‘My toil has been futile, I have exhausted myself for nothing, to no purpose.’ Yet all the while my cause was with the Lord and my reward with my God.
5 And now the Lord has spoken, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him and to re-unite Israel to him;-I shall be honoured in the Lord’s sight and my God has been my strength.-6 He said, ‘It is not enough for you to be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel; I shall make you a light to the nations so that my salvation may reach the remotest parts of earth.’
Gospel, Luke 1:57-66, 80
57 The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; 58 and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had lavished on her his faithful love, they shared her joy. 59 Now it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother spoke up. ‘No,’ she said, ‘he is to be called John.’
61 They said to her, ‘But no one in your family has that name,’ 62 and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called.63 The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they were all astonished.
64 At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. 65 All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. 66 All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him. 80 Meanwhile the child grew up and his spirit grew strong. And he lived in the desert until the day he appeared openly to Israel.
These readings today are for the birthday of John the Dipper (Baptist) who is presented in the New Testament as the last of the prophets of Israel and the forerunner of Jesus Messiah. The little information we possess about John suggests that the relationship may have been more contentious than our gospels suggests. There were disciples of John the Dipper in Ephesus where Paul encountered them, indicating that there were those who did not see John as a mere forerunner.
The Gospels’ presentation of John is as a powerful prophet of national repentance, urging Israel to turn to God in the face of the One Who Was To Come. Luke tells us that the families of John and Jesus were related, placing both men in the context of messianic expectation, amongst the “poor” of Israel, led by women of unusual determination.
John is the representative of God’s Israel who through the Messiah will be a light to the Gentiles. In the prophecy of Isaiah, the prophet is called “Israel” because he takes on the role of the whole nation is pointing the gentile peoples to God. The man, who in Israel’s name protests that his toil has been for nothing, is told that he is the messenger of a deliverance which will stretch to the ends of the earth.
In this light, we can see that the Gospels’ image of John the Dipper as their way of recognising the whole history of Israel under its God, and especially the history of its prophets. The Christian story does not begin with Jesus, but with Abraham and the history of faith and faithlessness, obedience and disobedience, exile and return.
In John the Dipper we celebrate the Jewishness of our faith and our Messiah.
Especially at this time, when Christian people have to reject the vicious nationalist theology of modern Israel, it’s important to remember where our faith began, and to enjoy the immense gift of our Jewish heritage.