His name is John.
When my wife was pregnant with our first child, I used to joke with her and others about the upcoming birth. “Whenever the baby comes,” I would say once I was out of my wife’s reach, “Elizabeth will call me and let me know…so that I can pass out cigars on the golf course before finishing the round.” It wasn’t funny then, either. She had a pretty good comeback, though. Knowing how important the baby’s name was to me, she would add, “And, when you answer the phone, I’ll let you know what I have decided to name the child.” She always won.
Today is the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist. Eight days after he was born, his parents had him circumcised. Since Zechariah had been struck mute by an angel for failing to believe the promised birth of the son, the officials were prepared to name the child after his father, Zechariah. But his mother Elizabeth intervened and insisted that he be named John. “But no one in your family is called ‘John,’” they said. And, to be sure, they looked to the mute husband. Grabbing a tablet, he wrote, “His name is John.” And it was official (Luke 1:57-80).
I love the Benedictus—John’s song. It’s my favorite gospel canticle (right behind the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimitis). But I’m not sure I could have enjoyed it that day. Anachronistic references aside, I would have been standing there wondering why they had to ask the father before they could accept that the boy’s name was John. He’s the dummy who messed the proclamation up in the first place. Why not just take the mother’s word for it?
There are lots of answers to that. I don’t want to launch in on the subject of the treatment of women in first-century Palestine. Mainly, that’s because I don’t really know much more than “it wasn’t good.” But it is an occasion to stop and ask about authority more generally. How many times have you asked a question, received an answer you didn’t like or didn’t expect, and then turned to another person and asked the exact same question? I’m not proud of it, but I must admit that I do it all the time.
I’ll ask my wife how long a beef tenderloin should be cooked. She’ll give me the answer, but, just to be sure, I’ll call my mother, too. (Not helpful.) When wondering about the proper procedure for a baptism/confirmation experience, I’ll ask my bishop how it should go down, but just to be sure I’ll still go and read the rubrics. (Not respectful.) I’ll ask a coworker how many people were present in church that day, but, when I don’t like the answer I get, I’ll ask another person standing there to see if I can get a “better” answer. (Not accepting.)
Over and over, when I don’t like the answer I get, I ask someone else. Usually, the answer is the same. Occasionally it changes, but rarely to my satisfaction. I have a problem with authority. I would have been one of the people who asked the father just to be sure the mother was trustworthy. I don’t like that about myself.
How well do you handle authority? Whom do you trust? What sort of source are you willing to accept without needing to ask another person to be sure? Upon what is your faith grounded? The apostles aren’t here for us to ask them questions. Are you willing to accept their testimony? What sort of proof do you need?
There are some things I believe in almost without question. Why those things? Faith, of course, isn’t built on proof. That’s the point. Faith is a level of trust. How can I learn to let the trust I have in some things, some people, and some areas spread to the things I struggle with?