Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Truth Endures

Truth Endures 

August 29, 2012
The Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Herod was the one who had John the Baptist arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married.  John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”  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.  (One day at Herod’s birthday party, his stepdaughter danced for all his guests.  In return, Herod promised her anything she would like.)  She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”  She replied, “The head of John the Baptist”… The king was deeply distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her.  So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head.  He went off and beheaded him in the prison.  He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl.  The girl in turn gave it to her mother.  (Mark 6:17-20, 24, 26-28)


O Lord, let me be so rooted in You that nothing in this world can ever pull me away.


Today we remember the death of John the Baptist.  The historian Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, Ch. 18.5.2) claims this forerunner of Christ was killed because his speaking drew great crowds, and Herod feared he and his many followers could lead a rebellion.  In Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew says somewhat the same thing, “Herod feared the people.” (Mt. 14:5)  But in our Gospel passage for today, Mark tells a different story.  He says that Herod felt strangely drawn to John the Baptist.  His wife may have wanted John’s head, but Herod himself enjoyed listening to the prophet’s words.  He didn’t always understand all the prophet said, but he went back more than once to the prison to see him.

As we read through the Gospels, time and again our every expectation gets turned upside down.  The seemingly powerful turn out to be weak.  The seemingly weak turn out to be the eternally strong.

Today’s verses are no exception.  In the world’s eyes, Herod has all the power.  He’s the ruler of Galilee and Perea, having inherited a quarter of his father’s territories.  He can have John the Baptist imprisoned.  He is able to order the prophet’s death at a moment’s notice.  But, in spite of all that, he turns out to be the loser, the weak one.  He is drawn to the truth spoken by John, but allows himself to be pulled away by the hatred of his wife for the one who threatens her marriage and sumptuous lifestyle.

John the Baptist doesn’t say much in this passage.  By the world’s standards, he’s poor and leads a hard life preaching repentance to anyone who will listen.   He has told Herod that his marriage to Herodias isn’t legitimate; it’s not in accord with the Law.  He’s imprisoned.  He dies at Herod’s hand.  To the world, he looks like the loser.  But centuries later, he is the one we remember.  He is the one who was faithful to God.  He’s the one who leapt for joy in his mother’s womb when in the presence of Jesus in his mother’s womb.  He testified to the Light that was coming into the world.  He’s the one we remember for preparing the way for the Messiah.  He is the eternally strong one in the story, because he never lost sight of the Truth.


I’m sure we’d like to point a finger at Herod, call him a villain and say we’re nothing like him, but…maybe not so fast.  Let’s be honest with ourselves.  We sometimes find ourselves in the same situation, pulled toward the Truth, attracted to all that is of God, yet swayed by our worldly desires.  Herod didn’t want to lose face in front of the people at his birthday party, nor did he want to incur the wrath of his wife, so he killed what might have been his one opportunity to get to know God.  What is it that pulls you away from all you know to be good and true in the Lord?

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