29 August – The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist
To endure temporal agonies for the sake of the truth was not a heavy burden for such men as John; rather is was easily borne and even desirable, for he knew eternal joy would be his reward. Since death was ever at hand, such men considered it a blessing to embrace it and thus gain the reward of eternal life by acknowledging Christ’s name. Hence the apostle Paul rightly says: “You have been granted the privilege not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for his sake.” He tells us why it is Christ’s gift that His chosen ones should suffer for Him: “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us.”
– from a homily by Saint Bede the Venerable on the death of John the Baptist
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
When I came to you, brothers, it was not with any show of oratory or philosophy, but simply to tell you what God had guaranteed. During my stay with you, the only knowledge I claimed to have was about Jesus, and only about him as the crucified Christ. Far from relying on any power of my own, I came among you in great ‘fear and trembling’ and in my speeches and the sermons that I gave, there were none of the arguments that belong to philosophy; only a demonstration of the power of the Spirit. And I did this so that your faith should not depend on human philosophy but on the power of God.
Herod sent to have John arrested, and had him chained up in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife whom he had married. For John had told Herod, ‘It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife.’ As for Herodias, she was furious with him and wanted to kill him; but she was not able to, because Herod was afraid of John, knowing him to be a good and holy man, and gave him his protection. When he had heard him speak he was greatly perplexed, and yet he liked to listen to him.
An opportunity came on Herod’s birthday when he gave a banquet for the nobles of his court, for his army officers and for the leading figures in Galilee. When the daughter of this same Herodias came in and danced, she delighted Herod and his guests; so the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me anything you like and I will give it you.’ And he swore her an oath, ‘I will give you anything you ask, even half 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 straight back to the king and made her request, ‘I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head, here and now, on a dish.’ The king was deeply distressed but, thinking of the oaths he had sworn and of his guests, he was reluctant to break his word to her. So the king at once sent one of the bodyguard with orders to bring John’s head. The man went off and beheaded him in prison; then he brought the head on a dish and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard about this, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
“Anyone who follows me will have the light of life”
Years ago, things were happening at work that made me really upset. This bothered me much and it kept me up at nights. When I expressed my reservations to my co-workers and to my manager, I was told to ‘not rock the boat, and to not ‘commit career suicide’.
I have been in the accounting, auditing, banking, insurance, private equity industries. The strange thing is that this particular mindset is so embedded in our human psyche that the same mindset is present. This attitude works well and good when everything is going well, but becomes challenging when things go wrong. We become fearful of the consequences of us speaking up.
St John the Baptist was a man who was unafraid to tell the truth. He insisted on telling things like it is, even to the point of losing his life. I wondered how someone could be so fearless when the realization hit me one day.
If we saw our lives as limited to our physical time on Earth, then we would be focused on self-preservation. However, if we, as Christians, remember that our lives will extend forever, and that physical death will only mean a transition to another phase of life, then our priorities will be different. Rather than looking at how to thrive during the short 50-99 years of physical life, we will instead look at what we need to do in order to thrive for the large part of our (infinite) existence.
St John the Baptist certainly understood this, and his fearlessness and behavior stemmed out of this. We must learn from him!
Another thought I had reading today’s gospel is how King Herod was conflicted when he was asked for the head of St John the Baptist. He was “deeply distressed” but was “reluctant to break his word to her”.
I wondered what I would do if I was ever caught between a promise I made, for something that does not glorify God, and choosing to break this promise just because it was wrong to do so. Which is more important… choosing to please God or choosing to please man?
While my aim is to please God, I can only pray that if I were to be caught in such a situation, I would have the strength and courage to do what is right.
What would YOU do?
(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)
Prayer: Help us Father, to correct our brothers and sisters with love. May we not be tempted to take a position of power and superiority and to let You guide our attitudes and actions.
Thanksgiving: Thank You Father, for loving us and for showing us the way to build our community here on earth. We are grateful that we have the Holy Spirit as our guide!