Brief synopsis of the readings: Every year we celebrate the Birth of John the Baptist on June 24th. This year it falls on a Sunday and it replaces the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time. I’ve chosen to focus on the mass during the day instead of the vigil mass. We begin with Isaiah. Isaiah claimed this: “The Lord called me before I was born, from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name.” Isaiah then told his readers that Israel has been glorified though “I have toiled in vain, I have exhausted myself for nothing.” Isaiah concludes by stating: “I will make you the light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” Luke’s Gospel recounts the birth of John the Baptist (no surprise here). Eight days after his birth, he was brought to the Temple to be circumcised and named. At first he was supposed to be named Zechariah after his father, but his father (who had been made mute a few verses earlier when he doubted Elizabeth could bear a child) wrote: “His name is John” and was once again able to speak. Those gathered wondered: “What will this child turn out to be?” The hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew up and his spirit matured. And he lived out in the wilderness until the day he appeared openly to Israel.
Where were you when you found out your destiny? OK, it’s a silly question. Most of us now work in a field that we didn’t expect when we were children and some of us (like me) work in a field that didn’t exist when we were children. But I think we devalue this feast if we think about it only in terms of our career. After all, the ability to choose our career is a fairly recent construct.
But the larger question, what does God intend for me, goes back to Abraham. From the very beginning of our lives we have, on some level, asked the question of what God wants us to do. Am I called to priest? Or a parent? Or a prophet? If I want my work to glorify God, am I to be a teacher, or a shepherd, or an evangelist?
OK, I have an unfair advantage. God has blessed me by giving me the opportunity to speak with people at the end of their lives and they have marveled me with the serpentine paths of their lives. I’ve heard stories of how a missed bus led to a 60 year marriage and job offer made out of desperation turned into a ground breaking progress that benefited countless people.
I think sometimes we drive ourselves crazy by thinking that God has a plan for us and we have to figure it out on our own; and not only that, but that God will judge us harshly if we make the wrong choice. Time and again I have spoken with someone in the midst of a romance who has wondered aloud whether this person was “the one.” They’ve set up a reality that goes like this: If this is the one for me, we’ll spend the rest of our lives together completely conflict free, and it not, we’re doomed.
Attempting to determine God’s will for us isn’t a bad question but I don’t think that we’re called to spend our lives wandering through a maze constantly searching for “the way” and fearing that we’ve made the wrong choice. God doesn’t want us to live our lives in constant fear that we will displease him by making a good faith choice that ends up incorrect.
And I’d like to think we can point to John the Baptist for enlightenment. By all accounts his birth should have been routine: Zechariah and Elizabeth, after years of infertility, welcome a son. But even before his birth events appeared different. When Zechariah was told that he would be a father he cast doubt on the possibility, and was made mute (and deaf, as others had to make signs to ask him what to name the child) and on writing that this baby will be named John, all were astonished. When others wondered what will happen to John, I’m willing to be that nobody expected him to baptize the Redeemer of the World.
This is perhaps a blessing, but we really can’t plan out our future beyond a few decisions. And as we look back on our past we sometimes wonder how we got here. If we look to our first reading in Isaiah, we learn that God has chosen us before we were born. Before we knew God, God knew us. When I look at these readings and think about John the Baptist, I suspect that God hasn’t chosen us for something, but simply that God has chosen us.
I live in San Diego and a local artist wrote this (and I’m not sure I have it exactly right): “I may not know God’s plan for me, but I take comfort that God has a plan and I’m included.” If God has chosen us, and I think God chooses everyone, our best response comes in wanting to respond well. We shouldn’t limit this to whether God wants me to chose this job, or even marry this person. God’s choice frees us to act with love in all that we do. It gives us the freedom to not want something too much.
A few decades ago I read a political memoir by someone who served one of our presidents. His belief was that his boss was good for the country, and therefore anything that supported his election was good for the country. You can probably guess that the president was Richard Nixon; his aide was John Dean, who ended up going to prison for his role in the Watergate scandal.
Perhaps if John Dean had read Isaiah and thought about the life of John the Baptist he would have recognized that he didn’t need to break the law to ensure Nixon’s re-election, that the future of our nation didn’t need the 1972 election to go a certain way.
God’s choice of us doesn’t mean we have to choose correctly. Instead it means that any choice we make out of love will get us to where we are called to go. And yes, to all those people who voted for George McGovern in 1972, let me get an Amen.