Friday, August 28, 2009


August 29, 2009

Memorial of the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist

“…[N]evertheless we urge you, brothers, to progress even more, and to aspire to live a tranquil life, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your (own) hands, as we instructed you, that you may conduct yourselves properly toward outsiders and not depend on anyone.” 1 Thessalonians 4:10-12

Herodias harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so. Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him. Mark 6:19-20


Father, you sent us John to prepare the way for the justice that your Son would deliver to the world. Help us to hear John’s message and begin to change the direction in which we seek happiness, control and affection in life. May the graceful gifts of the Holy Spirit strengthen us to conduct ourselves properly. Amen.


From the moment that we first meet John the Baptist, he is preparing the way of the Lord. He is urging those who will listen to aspire to a higher and better calling and motivation. John’s message of change (“Repent”) propels us to a different path than the direction taken by the political, religious and military leaders of the region seeking personal or political gain.

From his first summersault in his mother’s womb when in the presence of Mary and Jesus, John’s life and death consistently point us toward Jesus. Truth has its consequences…especially when speaking the truth of moral law consistently to the political leadership. In today’s account of the imprisonment and death of John the Baptist and that of the passion of Jesus there are numerous parallels.

• Herod and Pilate each acknowledge the holiness of life of the prophet/Messiah over whom he unjustly exercises the power of condemnation and death.
• The hatred of Herodias toward John parallels that of the Jewish leaders toward Jesus.
• After their execution, respected citizens request the bodies of the victims to give the bodies a respectful burial.

However, as Ched Myers (et. al.) note in the book Say to This Mountain, “The disturbing implication for the king is that the message persists despite his having gotten rid of one messenger.”


The message in our first reading from Thessalonians bears witness to John’s life. “Live a tranquil life” as opposed to a life filled with noise, distractions and self-indulgences. Like John, this epistle wants us to seek a higher calling when we change from the ways of our past. John removed himself from the center of society and lived in the desert eating bugs and living off the land. We may not be called to erect a hovel in the Mojave Desert, but we can all contemplate living a simpler lifestyle that makes room for Jesus by getting rid of things that crowd him out of our current lives.

John’s message of change paved the way for Jesus to emphasize the same message. The change John was seeking was to get people to “conduct themselves properly” according to the new song that he and Jesus would both come to preach. John did not fear the consequences when he spoke the truth of moral law to leaders who wanted to follow their own laws.

Finally, through John and Jesus, we experience the tension between the “inhuman” system of justice and the justice that will come with the Kingdom. In his book “Who Will Roll Away the Stone?” Myers notes: “Only this Jesus can topple our idols, shatter our illusions, show us the way through denial, and transform our dance with death into a tango with the Trinity.”

What transformation does John the Baptist inspire you to aspire to?