Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist
Cycle B – June 24, 2018
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 8:00am
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore 11:00am
Seven years ago, my nephew Mark and his wife Augusta were preparing for the birth of twins – a boy and a girl.
Mark and Augusta gave a lot of thought to the names for these children. In the end, they decided to name the little girl Matilda Lynn – Matilda after Augusta’s aunt, and Lynn after Mark’s mother.
They named the little boy George Franklin, George after both Mark’s and Augusta’s grandfathers, and Franklin after Augusta’s uncle. So, with these names, they connected these children with family members who meant a great deal to them.
I imagine that many of you have done this. Naming your children is an opportunity to connect them with loved ones or with favorite saints or with people in our cultural heritage.
Or it is an opportunity to select a completely new name and make your child very special in that way. Naming children is a wonderful opportunity.
We hear about the naming of a child in today’s gospel.
The Jewish custom in Jesus’ day allowed neighbors to have a say in the naming. That sounds strange to us, but to them a new child was seen as a gift for both the family and the entire village.
Their custom also dictated that the first son would be named after the father. So, it is natural that the villagers in today’s gospel expect this little boy to be named after his father Zechariah.
What they don’t know is that an angel has told Elizabeth and Zechariah that their son is to be named John. Apparently, God sees this child as special and this gets expressed in a special name.
Conclusion 1: Call by Names
One conclusion that I draw from this is the importance of using the name of those we are speaking to or speaking about.
This may sound like a no-brainer, an obvious statement. Maybe it is, but I think it may be timely to be reminded of basics like this.
So, we call others by their name: James, Meghan, Sharon, Gregory – using the first or given name whenever that is possible and appropriate. Making an effort to learn the name of another person, maybe a server at a restaurant or a clerk at the supermarket, our trying to know the name and then using it shows respect.
It is a basic way of recognizing the uniqueness of another person. It is a way of saying that they are special.
I find today’s first reading very valuable on this point. Isaiah senses that God called him from even before his birth.
He says: “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.”This is a beautiful statement of our life and personhood and of our relationship with God even before our birth.
Of course, usually our parents give us our name, but I would say that they do this on behalf of God. In other words, God names us through the thoughtful and caring naming by our parents.
This naming makes us, like Isaiah, special, unique persons. That’s why I say it is important to address others by their name whenever that is possible and appropriate.
Conclusion 2: Don’t Call Names
The other conclusion I want to draw today is that we should not call others names.
This again may sound like an obvious statement, but I think it is timely to be refreshed on this basic principle. Now, I am not thinking of affectionate nicknames that family members or close friends might give to one another.
I am talking about diminishing names, put-down names. This was an important lesson that my parents really tried to drill into us.
Mom and Dad really got on us if we called somebody “Fatso”or “Loser”or “Dumbbell”or the N-word. They simply forbade us to call other people names.
On a human level, calling other people names is immature behavior. And on a spiritual level, it is simply disrespectful.
So, we need to avoid name-calling and we need to respect the life, the dignity, and the personhood of others – no matter what. We need to remember that, like us, they “are called by God from birth and given a name from their mother’s womb.”