June 24, 2018.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday, June 24, 2018 from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm at St. Paul Church in Cambridge, in the small chapel located in the Parish Center. Please join us in person or in spirit as we encourage Inter-faith relations and pray together for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land.

In the Catholic liturgical year, today is a solemnity honoring the birth of John the Baptist. He is called Yahya in the Qur'an and is one of the 25 prophets mentioned in the Qur'an that all Muslims must believe in. The verses about the Baptist in both the Gospels and the Qur'an share much in common but there are also variations. In the Qur'an, Mary is an orphan and Zechariah, her Uncle, is her guardian and caretaker. Much to his surprise Mary's faith in God provides fresh food for her. Given the political and religious climate at the time, Zechariah feared that there would be no one to take his place in the temple since he was well into his old age and his wife was barren. Seeing how Mary's faith in God produced miracles he too turned to God in supplication. In both the Gospels and the Qur'an we know the outcome of the story. John is born miraculously to the elderly couple and as an adult is said to have become zealous in his religious faith.

The Qur'an does not refer to the prophet Yahya as Baptizing believers in the river Jordan to be spiritually purified, nor does Islam accept the meaning of Baptism understood by followers of Jesus as being washed clean of the original sin of Adam and redeemed through the blood of the Cross into new Life in Christ. One interesting suggestion by Muslim scholars in interpreting the Gospel according to John (Jn. 1:19-26) is that the following passage is a prophecy that Muhammad would be the final prophet following Jesus.

"And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him, 'Who are you?' he admitted, 'I am not the Messiah'. So they asked him, 'What are you then, Elijah?' And he said, 'I am not. Are you the Prophet?' He answered, 'No' .... Some Pharisees were also sent. They asked him, 'Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet? 'John answered them, 'I baptize with water, but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.'

In the Gospel of John, the prophet that this verse is referring to is the one who the people of Israel at that time were waiting for as stated in Deuteronomy 18:15-18 where Moses clearly says twice that the prophet they are waiting for must be from their brethren, ie a Jew. From the Jewish perspective, this expected prophet is not necessarily the Messiah either. Despite these contradictory understandings, in both Muslim and Christian traditions, the person of John the Baptist, or the Prophet Yahya is clearly honored.

When Zechariah accepts the will of God in his life as a miraculous intervention, as the Virgin Mary did in hers, he sets the stage for a dramatic change in the world, as his son, known as John the Baptist, grew up to preach a baptism of repentance, a turning away from the past in order to be transformed into a new person by listening to the call of God in our lives. It is answering this call that allows us to also become one who "prepares the way of the Lord" for all those around us who are in need of God's mercy and our love and compassion.

Have a blessed and peace filled Summer.

Peace to you,

(See www.dcbuck.com for all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute)