After writing last week about Zachariah’s prophecy on the birth of his son John, I was surprised by a whole chain of thoughts and questions about John that came to mind. I’d never thought anything about him beyond that which is recorded in the gospels, which are silent about his life from the time of his birth until “the word of God comes to him in the desert” and he begins a preaching ministry.
Being born to aged parents it occurred to me that he might have been orphaned at a young age. With whom would he have gone to live? – surely with relatives. It doesn’t strain the imagination to think that he might even have been taken in by Mary and Joseph and raised with his cousin Jesus and Jesus’s brothers and sisters. Or if not them solely, then surely by other relatives, perhaps spending long periods of time with many relatives. Whatever the living arrangements, it seems more likely than not that John and Jesus, six months apart, would have known each other from infancy, played together as children, and developed into young men and mature adults together. When John points out Jesus, who has come to be baptized, as one more powerful than he, he is not pointing to some stranger in the crowd.
And that prophecy of the angel Gabriel! I doubt that it was conveyed only that one time by Zachariah mentioned in the gospel of Luke. No, this would have been remembered by everyone, and told to him. He would be reminded by the community that he was special – that he was to bring people back to the Lord God – to go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah. Having this prophecy in mind all the time would be a powerful formative influence.
I find it useful to think of our biblical heroes, not as superhuman, but as ordinary people doing extraordinary things out of a sense of being called, and out of conviction and courage.
Dear Lord, give us the wisdom to know what we are called to do and the courage to do it.
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 22-December-2015.