JOHN’S LIFE AND EXECUTION WITNESSED TO AND FORESHADOWED THE LIFE AND DEATH OF JESUS
(A biblical reflection on the Memoria of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist – Wednesday, 29 August 2012)
Gospel Reading: Mk 6:17-29
First Reading: Jer 1:17-19; Psalms: Ps 71:1-6,15,17
For Herod had sent and seized John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; because he had married her. For John said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. When he heard him, he was much perplexed; and yet he heard him gladly. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias’ daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will grant it.” And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” And she went out, and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the baptizer.” And she came in immediately with haste to the king, and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” And the king was exceedingly sorry; but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard and gave orders to bring his head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. (Mk 6:17-29 RSV)
John the Baptist spoke the word of God to princes and kings, to priests and people alike, with little regard for the consequences. Like the prophet Jeremiah, he spoke out against the tide of moral corruption and spiritual apathy that characterized Israel’s leaders at that time. He stood for God’s righteousness and spoke out fearlessly when whose in leadership were making a mockery of the law of the Lord. Ultimately, he paid the price for his faithfulness to God – it cost him his head.
John’s life and execution witnessed to and foreshadowed the life and death of Jesus. The Baptizer decreased his importance to glorify Jesus, just as Jesus glorified His Father in heaven. As a matter of fact, when Herod first heard of Jesus, he believed Him to be John risen from the dead (Mk 6:16).
All Christians face challenges similar to the ones that John faced. Who among us hasn’t had to swim against the prevailing culture – and paid a price for it – in trying to maintain our commitment to Jesus? Who hasn’t experienced some form of persecution or harassment for their beliefs? There is a saying that Jesus came not just to comfort the troubled, but to trouble the comfortable as well. Doesn’t this in some way describe our presence as Christians in the world?
In practice, this may mean holding unpopular positions in your school or workplace. It may mean being called “backward” or “old-fashioned” because of your beliefs or lifestyle. When you seek to share the Gospel, you may be rejected or accused of meddling or imposing your beliefs. In my own country, Indonesia, people call it “Christianization”. That, however, has always been the experience of God’s servants. Faithfulness to God and the Lord Jesus can be costly.
Despite rejection or persecution, the promise that we can hold onto – which the prophet Jeremiah and John the Baptist held onto – is that God is always with us and He will strengthen us. He suffers with those who suffer, and He offers endless depths of consolation and encouragement. He will continue to form us and teach us how to minister His truth with love and compassion, and He will continue to strengthen us for whatever struggles lie ahead. If John could handle months in prison and even martyrdom, we can handle whatever is given to us – not by our might or natural endurance, but by hiding ourselves in the presence of God.
Short Prayer: Heavenly Father, hear our prayer for all Christians throughout the world who are facing persecution and hostility. Raise up men and women who, like John the Baptist, can be the image of Jesus. Give them deep consolation by the power of Your Holy Spirit. Lord, be their strength and comfort! Humble our hearts so that our lives too will magnify Your Son, Jesus. Amen.
Jakarta, 27 August 2012
A Christian Pilgrim