Sunday Scripture Readings

BIRTH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST, JUNE 24 Isaiah 49:1-6; Psalm 139; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66, 80 OUR GOOD NEWS: Like John the Baptist, Isaiah’s suffering servant, and Jesus, we are called to serve God through faithful failure, while maintain-ing peace of soul. John came last in a long line of Old Testament prophets and "servants" of God, each of whom contributed toward preparing Israel — and indirectly the whole world — for her Messiah. Our first selection traces John the Baptist’s Old Testament roots to Isaiah’s mysterious "suffering servant" (see first reading). Who was this figure? Partly to be identified with Israel as a corporate unity and called to mediate salvation to Gentile nations, this servant also was apparently an anonymous individual divinely empowered to serve both the Chosen People and all humankind. Let the Good News of his commissioning be proclaimed worldwide ("coast lands . . . distant peoples")! Like his predecessor prophet Jeremiah, this servant lived in total dedication ("called from birth . . . from his mother’s womb"). His words and witness were compared to weapons in the hand of a warrior God, thus emphasizing effectiveness combined with an intimate union as a divine instrument. But it was an ambiguous service, "concealed" and "hidden." "He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me" (first reading). "Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength . . . " Judged by human standards, the servant failed in his mission; like all other prophets similarly called, Israel was not "brought back to" her God through his labors. No matter! Surprisingly, the reward for faithful but unsuccessful service would be a new and breathtaking assignment. "I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth." Today we honor John the Baptist, who in succession to the suffering servant experienced imprisonment and martyrdom as a reward for prophetic truth telling. John in turn foreshadowed Jesus and his fate of total rejection and crucifixion, but in each case God worked through faithful failure to achieve his desire to save everyone. We, too, can be called to fail, through no fault of our own. The story of the servant, of John and of Jesus reassure us that, in Paul’s memorable words, "all things work together unto good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28). We selflessly, humbly do our best as we understand it — struggling to make a good marriage, raise our children properly, give ourselves to our work and our many other duties. Whatever happens — and the examples of the servant, John and Jesus warn us to expect undeserved frustration and rejection — God will empower us with an inner tranquility. God does the deciding and the doing; we need only remain steadfast, uncomplaining instruments. Our second reading presents Paul’s understanding of John the Baptist’s role within salvation history. "In proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all Israel," the prophet John summoned the people to a radical reform of life. Especially relevant for us is his call for social justice, following Amos and Micah and anticipating the modern Church’s stress on justice.

A subscription is required to access this content.

Current online and print subscribers, click here to login and view this article.

Please click here to subscribe to the St. Louis Review. You may subscribe to the online edition only or both the online and print editions.

If you already have a subscription and are still unable to access this information, please contact the St. Louis Review.

Why does the St. Louis Review require a subscription to access content online? (Click to view).

No votes yet