Oh, yeah, you’re Philip’s boy. I can’t tell you how many times I heard that in my childhood. Growing up in a small Texas town, everybody knew my dad, and his dad. The family name was known. They may or may not have known my first name, but when they heard that last name they immediately associated me with my father and my grandfather. My dad was careful to teach us boys the importance of that name: how we were stuck with it, and how he and his dad had worked hard to make sure they could give us a good name. The name should be synonymous, they explained, with honesty and hard work. They were proud of their name, and wanted to motivate us to live up to it—and to keep it good for our own sons one day. Our name went before us and said something about not just who we were, but what sort of people we came from. It was part of our identity, and part of our destiny. A name can do all of that.
57Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son. 58Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had extended His mercy toward her and they rejoiced with her. 59And it happened on the eighth day that they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him after the name of his father, Zacharias. 60And his mother answered and said, “No, but he will be called John.” 61And they said to her, “No one from your relatives is called by that name.” 62And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. 63And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” And they were all amazed. 64And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65And fear came on all those living there, and all these things were spoken about in the whole hill country of Judea. 66And all who heard them kept them in mind, saying in their hearts, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.
It had been a bit over nine months since Gabriel had spoken with Elizabeth and Zacharias. They had had plenty of time to rethink the situation; to bring this strange birth into a perspective that would be more easily explained and grasped than “something supernatural.” I’ve often read the story of Zacharias and wondered what he did so wrong as to deserve being struck dumb by the angel. After all, which of us wouldn’t have a couple of questions in response to what the angel told him? But it appears that the dumbness served a much greater purpose than just a sign to Zacharias: it became a powerful sign to his neighbors. After all, they had not heard him say a word for months. They had come to fulfill the obligations of the Law where the baby was concerned, and they were prepared to christen the child after his father’s name, which was the unquestioned custom of the time. This is significant, since the child’s entire purpose on the earth is to continue the father’s life, so to speak. He is the living validation of the parents, and his name will reflect his origins: Oh, you’re Zacharias’ boy. I am the son of Zacharias.
But his mother speaks up first. Again, Luke shows us something no other gospel shows: attention to the faith of the woman. She corrects the neighbors, and Zacharias follows. The crowd tries to brush past Elizabeth and get the husband to pull rank on her, but he goes along with the strange request for a name that is foreign to their family. Both parents are in agreement: they will name this child based on the word of the Lord, not their tried-and-true custom. In a sense, the boy WAS foreign; he was a miracle, and he was connected to something much greater than a simple family name. The boy’s very existence is connected to the word of the Lord, and their act of obedience to God echoes Hannah’s yielding of her son to Eli after praying for God to end her own barrenness (1 Sa 1). They took God at His word, and then they did an even more startling thing: they acted on it.
The text doesn’t give us much detail about the social pressures of naming the child, but we can understand that Elizabeth and Zacharias were essentially going against Man’s custom in order to be obedient to God’s word. You and I are in the same boat each day; some of the time, it’s so subtle as to not register with our consciousness. But being obedient to His word—which we hear by reading HIs word and being in community with His body, the Church—will immediately set you apart as foreign. Like John, you will be Someone Else’s kid.
Do people know me as a “guy who believes”? Do they assume that I’m religious because they saw “Dallas Theological Seminary” on my Facebook page or associate me with the “Church On The Hill devotional”? Or is my daily faith walk enough to make people quite convinced that I’m Someone Else’s son? Do people associate me with the Family to whom I belong? Just as John was the physical evidence of a supernatural God Who was acting in the lives of men, do people see me as evidence of a supernatural God intervening in their lives?
If they don’t, perhaps I’m not wearing my Family name well.