Luke’s gospel today recalls in detail the birth of John the Baptist before the birth Jesus and his later mission. “The hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.” (Luke 1:80)
Just as Luke recognizes the role of Mary and Joseph in the birth and raising of Jesus, he recognizes the role of Elizabeth and Zechariah in the birth and raising of John. Each help John grow and become strong in spirit. However lonely and independent he appears later in the gospels, John was influenced by them and the extended family that surrounded him from his birth.
Luke’s gospel often see one person’s fidelity influencing another. “The hand of the Lord was with him,” Luke writes, but human hands were on him as well.
John had faith like his mother Elizabeth who recognized the Spirit’s presence in her pregnant relation Mary visiting from Nazareth. John later would point out the Lamb of God among all those who came to the Jordan River for baptism.
He had faith like his father Zechariah who devoutly celebrated the mysteries of God in the temple of Jerusalem as a priest. At his birth, Zechariah signs away the gift of his name– and probably his hope that his son would follow in his steps. John would have a different calling. At the Jordan River, John called pilgrims to prepare the way of the Lord in their own hearts as they made their way to the temple and the Holy City, Jerusalem.
Undoubtedly, John was a unique figure, a messenger from God, a voice in the desert preparing the Lord’s way. But there were faithful people behind him, as they are behind us.
Don’t forget either his relative, Mary of Nazareth. At the end of his account of her visit with Elizabeth, Luke mentions “Mary stayed with her for three months, then returned to her home.” (Luke 1:56) That would mean she stayed on till the birth of John, wouldn’t it?
I don’t see Mary in the icon of John’s birth (above), but she must have been there. Were there other times too these families met? Artists portray the children playing together later. They could be right. We influence one another more than we think.