“No. He will be called John” (Lk 1:60).
With these simple words three inter-related points arise. First, Elizabeth is beginning to shift the momentum of original sin. Eve was tempted by the serpent to eat of the fruit that God had told her and Adam not too, yet she did. Adam did not support her in her dialogue but remained silent in the face of the pressure placed upon Eve, both of them slipped into sin, by not following the will of God.
At the time of the birth of Elizabeth’s son, there was cause for celebration, for Elizabeth was past child bearing years. The day had come to have him circumcised and named, her relatives and neighbors had gathered around with great excitement and there appeared to be a unanimous decision to name the boy after his father. Elizabeth did not, like Eve, cave to the pressure and temptation. Unlike Adam who lost his voice at the time he needed to speak up, Zechariah found his voice, had Elizabeth’s back and followed the will of God. Both Elizabeth and Zechariah knew what God wanted them to do, and were faithful to follow through.
The second point is already alluded to in the first, and that is how Elizabeth and Zechariah were faithful to God even amidst the familial and social pressure placed on them. We may be removed by such social pressure when naming a child, although some of us may still have experienced this pressure. Elizabeth held her ground and stood firm that the boy would be named John. Ignoring her, the people deferred to Zechariah, the boy’s father, thinking he would have more sense, but he, ignoring the paternal cultural pressure, supported Elizabeth. The point here is not so much the name, but the following of the will of God in the face of pressure to do the opposite.
This brings us to the third point and that is the maturation in moving from identity to integrity. Culture and traditions are not sacred, but God is. Elizabeth and Zechariah faced a lot of familial and social pressure to conform, yet they chose to be true to God, to be true to themselves, and they chose their integrity over their identity.
The very simple account of Elizabeth and Zechariah naming their child John in opposition to the familial and societal pressure offers for us a way to counteract the rising tide of polarization and conflicts that we face in our own country today. Identity provides safety, support, and security. It fuels one of our deepest hungers and that is to belong, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We can find our identity in family, friendships, our religious traditions, culture, political affiliations, common interests, clubs, activities, and hobbies. But our identity, which provides us with security, can also be a trap.
We want to belong so much, the drive is so strong, that we may be willing to make decisions, act in ways, and support others, that go against who we are, just so we can belong. We may not be true to ourselves and what we believe in to be part of the group. We may know what God wants from us, we may hear the whispers of his voice in our conscience, yet we are pulled by the louder voices of our group. We are sometimes so engrained by our identity that we are being strangled by it, instead of freed to be who God calls us to be.
Elizabeth, and Zechariah bring God to their family and neighbors by being true to who God calls them to be in the face of pressure. Many times being a person of integrity does not go so well. Their own son, who would grow to be John the Baptist, would lose his life, by speaking truth to power. But by being a person of integrity, like his parents, he would be the bridge from the old covenant to the new. Identity and tradition are important, but for identity to be true and to grow, it must be open to the truth, it must be open to integrity.
Instead of sharing what I believe or what I feel God has called me to say, instead of facing conflicts, real and/or perceived head on, there have been too many times in my life in which I have been frozen by indecision or chosen silence so to protect my identity, my ego, my false self, instead of accessing moral courage and embracing integrity. One thing that has helped me this past year is reading and studying the Gospel readings of the day. Time and again I have witnessed how Jesus is a model of integrity. Jesus embodies the moral courage that we all need today. Though more than just a model of a life well lived, more than just a word on the page, Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus is present to us now, to guide and lead us, to empower us with the same love that he embodies, such that when we say yes to him and invite him into our life, we too can be transformed to live a life of truth, moral courage, and integrity.
May we give ourselves a moment to be still today and reflect on those times in which we have chosen our identity over being people of integrity. When have we supported something we know is clearly wrong only because we are supporting our group? A good way to see this is when we judge the same act differently only based on who is doing it. Person A in my group does Act X and I defend him. Person B, who is not in my group, does Act X and I condemn her. Also, let us recall when God has inspired us to speak or act, even in simple ways of kindness and caring extended out toward another, and we refused because we feared the reactions or judgments of others.
May we follow the lead of Elizabeth and Zechariah, and their son John the Baptist from today’s Gospel and pray for one another that we may hear the word of God and act upon it. May we be able to turn away from supporting the identity of our own false self, that enslaves us through fear, so to be people of integrity and moral courage by listening to our consciences again. May we be willing to act and speak up when there are those that are belittling, demeaning, dehumanizing, and/or not respecting our dignity or the dignity of others on and individual and societal level, no matter who it is that is doing so. May we be willing ourselves to treat each other with dignity and respect, whether we are in the same group of identity or not.
Photo: accessed from http://www.pexels.com
Link for the Mass readings for Sunday, June 24, 2018: