On this past Sunday, the Christian community celebrated the solemnity of the birth of Saint John the Baptist. The day carried particular significance for those of us who live and work at St. John’s University— he is our namesake.
In the Gospel for the day, when the village asks Elizabeth for the name to be given to her son, she stops the thinking which would have called the child “Zechariah,” and continues without hesitation to say: “he will be called ‘John’.” Everyone is surprised. There is no one named “John” in their family. How can this be a good idea? They go to Zechariah and ask him what he thinks of this craziness. Zechariah gets a board and writes: “his name is ‘John’.” One wonders if that awareness emerges from the quiet time imposed upon him by the Lord.
Everyone else wants to keep to the “tried and true”; they want to use a name which has always been in the family. Elizabeth and Zechariah are willing to think in new ways. They are willing to think “outside the box”, and give a new name to this extraordinary gift which comes into their midst. They are creative and open to change as they see it arrive through the grace of God. In our lives, a little original and dynamic thinking “outside the box” may well be called for through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The choice of the name “John” for the child is not haphazard. With this name, both Elizabeth and Zechariah give expression to their experience of God in this new event. The name “John” means “The Lord is merciful.” Despite being without children for most of their married lives and into old age, they experience the blessing of God in the birth of their child and they want to acknowledge this gracious and caring action on their behalf. Every time that they call their son they will be reminded and they will reaffirm the truth of this experience. “The Lord is merciful!”
As we consider this story, we might be encouraged to give names to our experience of God as well. How can we give voice to our relationship to God in these days and in the time to come? Giving a name to that experience opens us up to receive the blessings which the Lord chooses to send into our midst. And it keeps us aware of this gift.