John the Baptist Illuminated
Today’s Gospel reading in The Lectionary is the very first chapter of Mark, featuring John the Baptist. As I read it, I had a memory flash of sitting in the Anglican Church in Kuwait, hearing a reading on John the Baptist’s Feast Day, a new reading I had never heard before, and it was beautiful, read in the rich, plummy tones of British English by their Ambassador. At the end, he said it was from the Quran.
John the Baptist in the Quran?
I was so ignorant about so many things. I still have so much to learn.
Here is today’s reading from Mark:
1The beginning of the good news* of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.*
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,*
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,*
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
4John the baptizer appeared* in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with* water; but he will baptize you with* the Holy Spirit.’
This is from an Islamic website, Soundvision, one which uses many sources to illuminate the teachings of the Quran and the Bible:
The birth of Prophet John is miraculous because he is the offspring of a barren mother and an elderly father. His father, it should be noted, was also a Prophet named Zecheriah.
“‘Zecheriah, We bring you the good news of the birth of a son whose name shall be John, one whose namesake We never created before.’ He said: ‘My Lord! How can I have a boy when my wife is barren and I have reached an extremely old age?’ He answered: ‘So shall it be.’ Your Lord says: ‘It is easy for Me’, and then added: ‘For beyond doubt, I created you earlier when you were nothing’ (Quran 19:7-9).
“Zecheriah exclaimed: ‘My Lord! How shall I have a son when old age has overtaken me and my wife is barren?’ He said: ‘Thus shall it be; Allah does what He wills'”(Quran 3:40).
With the birth of John, Allah granted Zecheriah his desire for an heir.
“And We bestowed favor upon Zecheriah, when he cried to his Lord: ‘Lord! Leave me not solitary [without any issue]. You are the best Inheritor.’ So We accepted his prayer and bestowed upon him John, and We made his wife fit (to bear a child). Verily they hastened in doing good works and called upon Us with longing and fear, and humbled themselves to Us” (Quran 21:89-90).
The beautiful qualities of John
Allah did not just miraculously grant Zecheriah a son. He made this child a blessing for his parents and beautiful in character. Prophet John is described in the Quran as chaste and righteous.
“Then Zecheriah prayed to his Lord: ‘O Lord! Grant me from Yourself out of Your grace the gift of a goodly offspring, for indeed You alone heed all Prayers. As he stood praying in the sanctuary, the angels called out to him: ‘Allah gives you good tidings of John, who shall confirm a command of Allah, shall be outstanding among men, utterly chaste, and a Prophet from among the righteous” (Quran 3:38-39).
“‘O John! Hold fast the Book with all your strength. We had bestowed wisdom upon him while he was still a child; and We also endowed him with tenderness and purity; and he was exceedingly pious and cherishing to his parents. Never was he insolent or rebellious. Peace be upon him, the day he was born, and the day he will die, and the day he will be raised up alive. (Quran 19: 12-15).
Part of a line of honored Prophets
Finally, as mentioned above, Prophet John is one of the Prophets Muslims must believe in. He is one of the 25 mentioned in the Quran.
“And We bestowed upon Abraham (offspring) Isaac and Jacob and each of them did We guide to the right way as We had earlier guided Noah to the right way; and (of his descendants We guided) David and Solomon, Job, Joseph, Moses and Aaron. Thus do We reward those who do good. (And of his descendants We guided) Zecheriah, John, Jesus and Elias: each one of them was of the righteous.” (Quran 6:84-85).