Reminder: Read and reflect on the Gospel before reading my reflection.
How sad Jesus must have felt when his Apostles returned from the city with news of the horrific promise of Herod to Salome to grant anything she wanted if she danced for him, which was the head of John the Baptist – a request made on the “prompting” of her mother who hated John the Baptist for calling out her sin – sleeping with King Herod, her husband’s brother:
Prompted by her mother, she said:
“ Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.”
Question to Ponder: “Whose promptings are we listening to, and why do we follow them when they ‘distress’ us, and we know to do so is not ethical and good?”
The Gospel gives us an answer to that question for Herod’s crime:
“The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests who were present, he ordered that it be given, and he had John beheaded in the prison.”
I can still remember the terror that I felt as a high-school teenager when I threw myself off a cliff down in Fernwood, PEI, into a pool of water below, hoping it was deep enough so I wouldn’t smash myself when I landed.
I only told my buddy that I’d do it “if you do it,” because I WAS SURE he wouldn’t do it….did NOT know just how crazy he was at the time.
He was hurling himself over the edge without even looking before I even had the words out of my mouth.
So, I know pretty much how Herod must have felt, with all those eyes on him testing him, his bold promise with an “If….then” clause still echoing in the halls.
I thank God that I survived that idiotic dare, and that it only involved foolishly risking my own life, and not putting someone’s head on a platter!
I would like to think that I wasn’t capable of an evil as great of that displayed by Herod in today’s Gospel; however, following bad “promptings,” coupled with an ego on steroids, fueled by the powerful dynamics of social conformity and “groupthink” can be a deadly combination we all need to be aware of as we journey through life.
THE SADNESS OF JESUS AT WORD OF JOHN THE BAPTIST’S DEATH
When I read the words, “…and they went to tell Jesus,” I suddenly received a flood of images of the few times the relationship of John the Baptist and Jesus is mentioned in Scripture.
There aren’t many occasions, but I read them in the context of a rich and long relationship, starting from the moment the Angel Gabriel told Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was also miraculously to give birth to a child, despite her advanced age:
“The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God. Look, even Elizabeth your relative has conceived a son in her old age, and she who was called barren is in her sixth month.” [Luke 1: 36]
Back to back birth announcements from an angel: first the birth of Jesus; then the birth of John the Baptist. Impressive.
Then Mary heads off to Elizabeth’s to spend the next 3 months with her, which I’m presuming means she stayed until John the baptist was born – I just can’t imagine her doing the marathon and then stopping like Forrest Gump on his multiple cross-country trek to say: “I’m pretty tired, I think I’ll go home now,” as Elizabeth went into labour.
We’re told that John “kicked” elizabeth when Mary entered her house and greeted her, which I’m assuming was a pretty solid kick, given that it’s a detail that made it into sacred scripture to remain for all time.
I can’t imagine that Jesus and John didn’t “hang out” together growing up, like close relatives do, especially because they would gather together in Jerusalem at the Synagogue at festivals throughout the year, but there is no recounting of any of that in Scripture.
Some might think that they grew up separate and not involved in each other’s lives because in a moment of weakness and doubt, and no doubt with a foreboding of his death and anxiety about whether the “mission” he had for his life to announce the coming of the Messiah had been fulfilled, John had someone go to Jesus to ask him if he was indeed the Messiah. We shouldn’t forget that being close friends friends and relatives this it would be always a greater challenge to see Jesus as the Son of God, In the same vein as ” a prophet is not welcome in his own home” as we’ve been discussing this past week in reflections on other readings:
“Then John’s disciples informed him about all these things.So John called two of his disciples and sent them to ask the Lord, “Are You the One who was to come, or should we look for someone else?” When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to ask, ‘Are You the One who was to come, or should we look for someone else?’ ” At that very hour Jesus healed many people of their diseases, afflictions, and evil spirits, and He gave sight to many who were blind. So He replied, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the one who does not fall away on account of Me.” [Luke 7: 18-24].
When the disciples of John the Baptist left, Jesus then took a break from his healing to extoll John’s praises:
“After John’s messengers had left, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the wind?Otherwise, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? Look, those who wear elegant clothing and live in luxury are found in palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘Behold, I will send My messenger ahead of You,who will prepare Your way before You.’ I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John, yet even the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” All the people who heard this, even the tax collectors, acknowledged God’s justice. For they had received the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.” [Luke 7: 25-30].
John the Baptist was referred to by Jesus as “elijah” who is to come, but added that understanding was required.
Elijah means the one who brings light to show the way of “the Light” – the little reveal before the big reveal.
That comes twice after the historical Elijah in the Old Testament, with the incarnation of Jesus (John the Baptist) and before the “great and terrible day of the Lord” that is coming soon to our world, as prophesied in the Book of Malachi, where once again “elijah” will announce the coming justice and glory of the revelation of Jesus to the world, whereas John announced The revelation of the kingdom of God and the MERCY of Jesus brought to the world:
John the Baptist is called “Elijah” because he came in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), not because he was Elijah in a literal sense. John the Baptist is the New Testament forerunner who pointed the way to the arrival of the Lord 2000 years ago.
Just as Elijah filled that role in the Old Testament, then John the Baptist ushering in the announcement of the messiah’s incarnation, he will again in the future—see Revelation 11, re: “the two witnesses”.
There is so much insight and wisdom in today’s Gospel relevant to what we are facing in the world today. I’ll just highlight what I take to be the main points:
- We need to be especially vigilant in watching the doorway to our mind, heart and soul regarding what “promptings” we give our attention to and follow. Where do they come from? The Holy Spirit? We need to ask ourselves that a lot.
- John was killed because he testified to a truth that someone with a lot of power didn’t want to hear, because John the Baptist was revered and had his own kind of power, despite nothing in the pantry but some wild honey and a bag of dried locusts. We too are called to testify to the truth, and those to whom we must speak it may want to put our heads on platters as well, or jab us with a needle perhaps.
- Worth noting as well that those “open to the truth” seek out people like John the Baptist who testify to the truth they know in their hearts is indeed the truth, giving them courage to repent and turn their lives around by surrounding to the “promptings” of God and not their own, selfish, sinful will. Just as the powerful will first avoid, then when that isn’t possible, persecute and possibly kill prophets, and that starts from the get-go: “But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.”
“Jesus, may we not cower in the face of power but speak boldly the truth to call your children to a recognition of your great majesty and glory, and to repentance from a life distant from you. May we also have the courage to demand those in power over us exercise true leadership that follow the promptings of your Holy Spirit for the good of your children. Open their hearts to see that true peace and joy comes only from service to others as we live with our attention and desire not on ourselves, fulfilling our needs, but on helping and healing others for the greater glory of Your Most Holy Name.” Amen.