Luke on John…kinda anyway

Today’s lectionary reading is taken from Luke 1:5-17. In this passage we hear background that precedes the birth of Christ as we are told the story of news reaching John the Baptist’s father Zechariah about his (John’s) pending birth.

Luke is the only one of the 4 Gospels that discusses John in the Baptist in this detail. The other Gospels talk about him and he plays a significant role in each, but not until adulthood. From this perspective, John’s portrayal in the Gospels (other than Luke’s of course) is not unlike Mark and John’s (the gospel here not the person) portrayal of Jesus…skipping the birth and going right into the stuff that happened in adulthood.

Personally, I’m a fan of Luke’s inclusion of this information. The parallelism between John and Jesus is certainly apparent in many ways (more on that in a moment). Additionally, it also lends a little bit of support to the fully human aspect of Christ to catch a glimpse into his family. For reference, John and Jesus were cousins…at least somewhere along the line. Elizabeth (John’s mother) is described as a cousin (or at least a relative) of Mary (Luke 1:36).

The first parallel (at least in my opinion) between Jesus and John occurs when we hear that Elizabeth is barren (verse 7). Bear with me for a moment as I explain. Mary was not barren, but being a virgin, she was…in a manner of speaking…physically unable to have children. Now when I say that I mean that without having had sex it is impossible from a natural standpoint for her to have conceived rather than saying that she was literally unable to have children. I hope that is clear.  Either way you look at it, neither woman should be having kids.

The next parallel…both births are hailed/foretold to a parent by an angel. It’s announced to Zechariah in verse 11 and to Mary later on in verse 26.  The name of both boys is announced by the angel…so apparently there is no disputing what either one will be named…though in John’s case we see that’s an important point as Zachariah’s forced silence is only broken when he announces (by writing it down) that his son’s name will be John.

Now, another connection, though admittedly not really a parallel occurs right at the end of this passage in verse 17… [He will] make ready a people for the Lord. Here we see John’s mission…to prepare the way…and additionally we see right here at the get-go that while he is important he is not the Lord…something that John himself will remind the people later on in chapter 3.

There is another point that I would like to present, though admittedly it’s more of something that I find humorous.  We see in verse 12 that Zechariah is terrified at the presence of the angel (Gabriel in this case, one of only 2 angels ever named in Scripture) while he is in the Holy of Holies. Considering the practices at the time, Zechariah’s fear is understandable…to stand in the presence of a heavenly creature (usually God, but do to pretty much every angel’s first words of “do not fear” it would seem to apply to them as well) is to risk death.  The priests took this so seriously that on the day of Atonement when the high priest would enter into the Holy of Holies (the one day a year anyone went in there) they would literally tie a rope around the legs of the high priest so that if he died, they could pull his body out of there. I’ve always gotten a kick out of that mental image.

One last point that I’ll highlight. This story is evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit before the death and resurrection of Jesus. So often we hear that the first time the spirit was really active was at Pentecost following the ascension…but there are moments where we see the Spirit popping up. Severs 15 is one of them. John is full of the Spirit…a little later on at Jesus baptism (later on in terms of scripture…actually about 30 years passed between this event and the baptism).  Now that in itself raises another question that I’ll leave you to ponder…did Jesus “send the spirit” from Heaven out to everyone that believed the truth? Or was it only in very special cases that the Spirit was active prior to Jesus’ ascension?

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