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SOLEMNITY OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST (Cycle ABC)
June 24th ~ Mass during the day

Readings:
Isaiah 49:1-6
Psalm 139:1b-3, 13-14
Acts 13:22-26
Luke 1:57-66, 80

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of the Readings: Raised Up to Greatness
The celebration of the feast days of most saints remembers that saint upon his or her entrance into heaven, but there are three festivals in celebration of a person's natural birth: we celebrate the nativities of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and St. John the Baptist.  They are the ones who were filled with the Holy Spirit in their mothers' wombs even before their physical births.  That St. John the Baptist would be filled with the Spirit from his own mother's womb was told to his father, the priest Zechariah, by the angel Gabriel when the angel said his birth would be cause for rejoicing: "And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.  He will drink neither wine nor strong drink.  He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God" (Lk 1:14-16). 

We are obedient to the angel's command to rejoice in remembering St. John's birth.  It was the Baptist who was chosen by God to be the divinely appointed herald to announce the coming of the kingdom of the Messiah (Mt 3:1-11), and it was John who baptized Jesus on the banks of the Jordan River (Mt 3:12-17; Mk 1:1-11; Lk 3:1-22; Jn 1:19-34) in preparation for His mission.  In praising the work of St. John the Baptist, Jesus declared that until that time no man born of woman was greater than St. John (Mt 11:11a). 

The First Reading Isaiah 49:1-6 ~ A Light to the Nations
1 Hear me, O coastlands, listen, O distant peoples.  The LORD called me from birth, from my mother's womb he gave me my name.  2 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.  3 You are my servant, he said to me, Israel, through whom I show my glory.  4 Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the LORD, my recompense is with my God.  5 For now the LORD has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb, that Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him; and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD, and my God is now my strength!  6 It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.

There are four "Servant Songs" in the Book of Isaiah: 42:1-4; 49:1-7; 50:4-11; and 52:13-53:12.  This passage is the second of the "Servant Songs" and repeats up the same theme as the first "song" while taking up certain aspects of the Servant's mission: his predestination in verses 1 and 5; a mission not only to re-gather Israel but to carry the message of salvation to the Gentile nations to whom he must bring a new teaching in verses 5 and 6. 

Jewish Biblical scholars identify the "Servant" as historical Israel, ideal Israel, or the Prophet Isaiah himself.  Christian tradition, however, has seen a fulfillment of these servant prophecies in Jesus Christ, son of Israel and Son of God—the One who's coming as a "light to the nations" was heralded by St. John the Baptist. 

Verse 1b-2 declares the anointing of God's servant from the womb was to designate him for a special office for which he was predestined and made fit for preaching God's word to the people.  Christians do not interpret verse 3 as identifying the Servant as Israel but one from Israel who is the covenant people's ideal representative (see verses 5-6 that distinguish between the Servant and Israel as two different entities and clearly identify the Servant as an individual). 

Verse 4 speaks of a failure followed by a final triumph in verses 5-6.  Verse 6 is significant since it identifies the Servant's mission as not only the restoration of Israel/Jacob, but also the conversion of the world and recalls St. Simeon's prophecy for the child Jesus when he said: "... for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel" (Lk 2:32).

Responsorial Psalm 139:1b-3, 13-14 ~ The Lord is Our Maker
The response is: "I praise you for I am wonderfully made."
1b O LORD, you have probed me and you know me; 2 you know when I sit and when I stand; you understand my thoughts from afar.  3 My journeys and my rest you scrutinize, with all my ways you are familiar.
Response:
13 Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb.  14a I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works.
Response:
14b My soul also you knew full well; nor was my frame unknown to you when I was made in secret, when I was fashioned in the depths of the earth.
Response:

In verse 1a this psalms is attributed to King David, and it is a hymn meditating on God's omnipresence and omniscience.  In verse 1b the psalmist acknowledges God's part in creating every part of his being and that God has knowledge of all his activities.  He knows that God has had control over his life from the moment of his conception and that God intimately knows the very essence of the psalmist from the depth of his soul to his physical being, nothing about him can be hidden from his Creator-God (verses 13-14).  It is for this reason, that we praise God in our response, for He has wondrously made each of us.

The Second Reading Acts 13:22-26 ~ John, Herald of the Messiah
In those days Paul said:  22 "God raised up David as their king; of him he testified, 'I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will carry out my every wish.'  23 From this man's descendants God, according to his promise, has brought [literally = raised up] to Israel a savior, Jesus.  24 John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel; 25 and as John was completing his course, he would say, 'What do you suppose that I am?  I am not he.  Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.'"

This passage is from St. Paul's address to the Jewish Synagogue in Antioch Pisidia, a congregation that also included Gentile converts and Gentile God-fearers (13:42).  Paul began his homily by calling on his fellow "Israelites".   Note that the word "Israel" is repeated three times in Paul's homily (13:17, 23 and 24).  He begins with a survey of Israel's history from Israel's divine election in the Exodus experience to the mission of Israel's last Old Testament prophet, St. John the Baptist.  Like St. Stephen's address to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7), Paul pays close attention to historical details in the Torah and the historical books.  However, Paul's theme is focused on proving that Jesus is the promised Messiah who God raised from the dead to bring salvation to His people, and Paul sees King David as both a type of Jesus and as his ancestor. 

Acts 13:22-23 ~  God raised up David as their king; of him he testified, 'I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will carry out my every wish.' From this man's descendants God, according to his promise, has brought [raised up] to Israel a savior, Jesus (emphasis added)The NAB failed to literally translate the verb "to raise up" a second time in verse 23.  The verb is egerio, "to waken, to raise up from sleep or death, raise (again up), rear up, rise (again up)."  The first phrase of verse 22,"God raised up David as their king; of him he testified, 'I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will carry out my every wish,' is to remind Paul's audience of God's covenant promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:12  ~ I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm (and also in 23:1).  Connecting this promise to David with Paul's reference to God who "raised up David" in verse 22 and the same verb in the next part of the verse: From this man's descendants God, according to his promise, has brought [raised up] to Israel a savior, Jesus—Paul is declaring that Jesus is the heir of David—the "raised up" resurrected Savior of Israel.  Paul purposely uses the same verb to refer to Jesus' resurrection five times in 13:23, 30, 33, 34 and 37 in the Greek text.

24 John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel 25 and as John was completing his course, he would say, 'What do you suppose that I am?  I am not he.  Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.' 
St. John was the prophet who announced Jesus' coming and prepared Israel to receive Him through a baptism of repentance.  Notice the focus is still on Israel as the intended recipient of the Messiah.  The quote ascribed to St. John appears to be a combination of St. John's testimony found in Luke 3:16-17 and in John 1:19 and 27.

Paul proclaims Jesus is the promised Davidic heir of the eternal covenant (2 Sam 7:12-16, 29; 23:5; 2 Chr 13:5).  He uses the words "raised up" twice in referring to David being chosen by God to be Israel's king as a reference to the wording promise of an eternal covenant to David (2 Sam 7:12 = I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I shall make his kingdom firm), and as an allusion to Jesus' resurrection when God "raised up" Jesus from the dead to be Israel's promised Messianic-Davidic king.  Jesus is the Savior of Israel—the one promised to secure David's throne forever in the unconditional, eternal covenant God made with David, whose coming as Messiah was heralded by the prophets including John the Baptist, who most Jews recognized as a prophet from God.

The Gospel of Luke 1:57-66, 80 ~ The Birth of St. John the Baptist
57 When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son.  58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord has shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.  59 When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother said in reply, "No. He will be called John." 61 But they answered her, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name."  62 So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.  63 He asked for a tablet and wrote, "John is his name," and all were amazed.  64 Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.  65 Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea.  66 All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, "What, then, will this child be?"  For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.  [..].  80 The child grew and became strong in spirit and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.

St. Elizabeth conceiving and giving birth to St. John was the fulfillment of the first part of the angel's promise to her husband, the priest Zechariah in 1:13.  There are also three other prophecies of the angel Gabriel that are fulfilled at John's birth:

  1. The angel's statement, And you will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth (1:14) is fulfilled in verse 58: Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord has shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.
  2. The angel's command that the child be named John (1:13) was fulfilled in verse 60 when Elizabeth said, "No. He will be called John" and Zechariah confirmed the naming of the child in verse 63, writing, John is his name.
  3. The angel told Zechariah "But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place ..." (1:20), and on the day of his son's birth the angel's prophecy was fulfilled when Zechariah began to talk (verse 64).

"59 When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child..."
In Scripture eight is the number signifying re-birth and salvation.  Since the time of Abraham, circumcision was the sign of entrance into the covenant with Yahweh—it was a spiritual re-birth into the family of God. This covenant command was repeated in the Sinai Covenant (Lev 12:3).  The ceremony of the child's circumcision emphasizes the child's incorporation into the covenant people of Israel and was the physical sign of an internal condition of a life dedicated to God (Dt 10:16; 30:6).

64 Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.  65 Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea.  66 All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, "What, then, will this child be?"  For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.
In addition to the fulfillment of the angel's prophecy, speech suddenly return to Zechariah because his doubt had turned into faith and obedience in giving the child the name the angel instructed him to give.  Zechariah's inability to speak was the Gabriel's sign that all the prophesied events would come true, but Zechariah's inability to speak and the sudden return of his speech was also a sign to his neighbors that something great was taking place within the family of Zechariah that could have an impact on the covenant people as a whole.  Their question reflects that they expect more amazing works of God will follow in the future.  The question the neighbors asked becomes the question on the minds of the readers of Luke's Gospel at this point in the story, "What, then, will this child be?"  Part of that answer is given is verse 80, The child grew and became strong in spirit and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.

Catechism References:

Isaiah 49:1-6 (CCC 713); 49:5-6 (CCC 64)
Acts 13:24 (CCC 523)
Luke 1:68 (CCC 422, 717)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015