When a child is born the first thing he or she receives is a name. Many times, this child’s name carries a meaning and reflects what dreams parents have for their child. This is especially true among the Chinese. Parents could name their child gold or silver so the child would become rich when they grew up. Some parents name their child dog or cow, literally, so the child would be as tough as the animal to survive the process of growing up without any illnesses.
Today’s gospel is chosen to celebrate the nativity of John the Baptist and naming him became a drama between relatives. Through the conversation between Elizabeth, the mother, and the relatives, I wonder if those are the families of Zachariah, the father’s side of the family, who opposed Elizabeth’s suggestion to name her child John. But, John is his name after consulting the father. Both parents were insistent to use the name John because it was instructed by God. God has a big plan for John.
John in Hebrew means God is gracious or God has compassion. John growing up in the desert was a reminder of the time the Israelites spent in the desert, and how God took care of them, even though they were in a land without water and food. Luke specifically mentioned what John ate and wore to make the point that even in this barren place, God is there to provide food, God is gracious.
God also has compassion, like a nurturing mother introducing solid food for the first time to her baby by grinding the solid food into a paste. The Israelite is to accept Jesus’ teaching of love, which is love your neighbor and even love your enemies, they needed help. This help came from God through John. At the time Jesus began to teach, the Israelites had already suffered numerous invasions by its neighbors and the devastating memory of their exile to Babylon. Their status at Jesus time was not any better. The Romans were in control and the Israelites were living a miserable life. Their hearts became cold and hard. John preached repentance to remind them how God had forgiven them even though they had abandoned God repeatedly throughout history. By preaching repentance and forgiveness of sin, John prepared the hearts of the Israelites to accept Jesus’ radical teaching of love.
The Nativity of John the Baptist reminds us of God’s grace and compassion. Have you practiced your compassion lately? When you see children separated from their parents by the law enforcement agency after crossing the border illegally, have you prayed for them? Have you prayed that our government would have compassion for these children and parents? Let us honor John’s birthday by following his mission which is to have compassion for one another.