I wonder if you are familiar with a reality TV show called THE VOICE. I understand that the show originated from Holland. Instead of the usual panel of judges facing the contestant-singers and screening or judging them, you have four personalities sitting in revolving chairs, listening with their backs facing the performer. They press the button on their seats only if they feel attracted to the performer’s voice.
And it is the singer who chooses from among them the one who would serve as their coach for a higher level of competition. This coach is then given the task of training the singer’s voice and allowing it to achieve its fuller potentials for the next round of elimination process.
I think of John as one who plays that coach role in The Voice. His birth gives voice to his father who had earlier withdrawn into silence after hearing the angel Gabriel’s annunciation. Since he is destined to become a prophet, he lends his voice to God’s Word.
Actually, I drew my inspiration for this reflection from today’s Office of the Readings. I am referring to the homily by St. Augustine on the Nativity of John the Baptist. There, St. Augustine says, “Zechariah is silent and loses his voice until John, the precursor of the Lord, is born and restores his voice.” He is of course referring the scene in our Gospel today, when the birth of John breaks the long silence of Zechariah who had gone mute after hearing the angel’s message, which may have seemed to him at first as bad news. It is not until he actually hears it as good news that his voice is restored.
I read between the lines, and I am inclined to believe that Zechariah did not take his wife’s pregnancy as good news. I have a feeling that Zechariah may have suspected that his wife’s pregnancy was a fruit of infidelity.
The neighbors in the story are behaving like the faceless chorus in a Greek drama. In Pinoy culture I’d call them a bunch of intrigeros, chismosos and pakialameros. “Why name him John? There’s no one in the family by that name. What’s wrong about calling him Zechariah Junior? He is an only child and a son at that. Why don’t we ask the father’s opinion about this?”
They are deliberately provoking a reaction from the husband who had earlier withdrawn into silence since Elizabeth became pregnant. (What else could that mean?) But they are in for a big disappointment. Right at that moment, Zechariah regains his voice and says, “My wife is correct. The child will be called John, and it’s my choice too, so please shut up.”
We know, of course, that this child would grow into an adult and later withdraw into silence himself in the desert, before he starts his mission as a prophet.
In the Gospel of John 1:23, in answer to the people who ask John to identify himself and his purpose, his answer is, “I am ‘the voice of one crying out in the desert…” John calls himself “the voice”, but the Word that he speaks, as a prophet is “God’s Word.” This prophet is consistently modest and self-deprecating about his importance. He knows that his job is merely to give a voice to God’s Word. St. Augustine goes on to say, in his reflection, “John was a voice that lasted only for a time; Christ, the Word from the beginning, is eternal.”
Actually, there were people in those times who thought that John was already “The Word”, meaning, the Messiah they had long been waiting for. But John dismisses them and, in all humility, declares, “I am just a voice.” My work is merely to give a voice to God’s Word. He is like the coach in a blind audition. He presses the button and turns around when he hears a familiar voice from heaven, right at that moment that he was baptizing Jesus of Nazareth. And then he lends his own voice to allow God’s Word to be better heard through the man he will call the Lamb of God.
Do you ever wonder sometimes, what it is like to be mute, to be voiceless? That was how Israel began. They started as a band of Hebrew slaves who were voiceless in the Egyptian society. There was no one but God who heard their voice, their cry of affliction. Thus he became known as “the God who hears the cry of the poor”, the one who coaches them so that their voices are heard. Yahweh was the Great Coach.
The Gospels tell us that John had to live in the wilderness for a while. He went into silence to listen to God’s voice himself. And he dared to speak out in defense of the voiceless until the ruling authorities found him too disturbing and decided to silence him by having him beheaded. They thought they could silence the Word that way. That is why when Jesus came out, we are told by Luke that Herod the tetrarch became paranoid and was greatly disturbed because people were saying, “John had returned from the dead”. In v.9, Herod says, “John I beheaded. Who then is this about whom I hear such things?” (Luke 9:7-9 ) He could hear echoes of the voice of John in Jesus and they were like a torture to him.
God indeed has a way of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable through the voices of his prophets. Unknown to them, John had already multiplied his voice in his disciples. As soon as he was silenced, an even louder voice was heard, one that had been mentored and trained by John himself; he was more than a voice. He was THE WORD. This prodigy would be found even more disturbing than John, he too had to be silenced. The silence would last only for three days in the tomb. The moment he breaks loose from the grave, his voice could no longer be suppressed. It would descend anew from heaven like tongues of fire that would now multiply the voice of Christ exponentially.
I know that we have priests and bishops who are starting to get worried that our churches have been closed for too long because of the COVID pandemic. Some are beginning to doubt the wisdom of having online Masses because they are afraid that you might not go back to Church anymore.
Honestly, I find such apprehensions amusing. It is obvious that we are in an abnormal situation that is temporary. God closed the churches but is creating new opportunities to open minds and hearts. He is also creating new avenues for his Word to be heard through many new voices in the digital world. He is reaching a lot more people now, through the social media. In short, he is multiplying his voice, letting his Word penetrate even souls that have grown cold towards the faith. I think this is the time to say, “The harvest is rich, but the laborers are few. Beg therefore the master to send more workers to do some harvesting.”
Since this pandemic began, you have been hearing God’s Word through this Online Mass. I have only served as a Coach for The One Voice. Since you’ve followed faithfully and listened attentively to the coaching, I hope and pray that soon, you be able to take your turn to also lend your Voice to Christ, The Word Made Flesh.
This is a homily delivered by Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan for the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist on June 24, Wednesday of the 12th Week in Ordinary Time.