Martyrdom of John the Baptist
1st Reading: Jer 1:17-19
The word of the Lord came to me thus: Gird your loins; stand up and tell them all that I command you. Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them; for it is I this day who have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass, against the whole land: Against Judah’s kings and princes, against its priests and people. They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.
Gospel: Mk 6:17-29
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. She had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday, gave a banquet for his courtiers, his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee. Herodias’ own daughter came in and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.” He even swore many things to her, “I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the Baptist.” The girl hurried back to the king’s presence and made her request, “I want you to give me at once on a platter 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. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
THE MARTYRDOM OF JOHN THE BAPTIST: A careful reading of the martyrdom of John the Baptist as reported by Mark can be understood in two ways. Firstly, the story could be seen as an illustration of willingness to sacrifice others to maintain honour, prestige and power. Herodias considered John the Baptist a thorn in the flesh and wanted to get rid of him because he condemned her illegal relationship with Herod. She could not do it directly but makes use of devious means with the help of her daughter. Herod, on the contrary, knew that John was a righteous person, and was unwilling to kill him but puts him to death to fulfil his oath. Secondly, in tasting martyrdom at the hands of imperial authorities, John functions as the forerunner of Jesus, of Jesus’ disciples, and of the believers who would dedicate their lives for Jesus in the future. The evangelist is very certain that anyone who chooses to follow Jesus will be tempered by challenges and opposition. They could be persecuted and killed as John and Jesus. The followers of Jesus may encounter persecutions and challenges but the story will not end in death and defeat but in resurrection and life. Let us be aware of it as followers of Jesus.
Prayer: Lord give me courage to face the challenges that I will come across as I follow you.
COST OF STANDING FOR TRUTH: Today, we commemorate the death of John the Baptist, which forewarns the fate of Jesus. John paved the way for Jesus as he witnessed to the truth, risking even his life. The “voice crying in the desert” did not hesitate to accuse the guilty and speak out the truth. The drunken oath of a king with a shallow sense of honour, a seductive dance and the hateful heart of a queen brought about the martyrdom of John the Baptist. He died for the truth for which he lived. John’s martyrdom reminds us that the most important vocation for all Christians is to live out the Gospel. We are called to proclaim the Good News of Christ both in word and deed, no matter the risk. What is important is not how long we live but how we live. John and Jesus had short life spans but left behind legacies. Both stood for truth and announced it boldly. What do we live for? Is there anything for which we are ready to give up our life?