Today’s Mass for the memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist has one of the most fascinating of passages from the Gospel of Mark. This is the only time that St. Mark (who was most likely transcribing St. Peter) goes off in such detail with a narrative event with anyone other than Jesus. It’s such a striking narrative – we hear that Herod has John the Baptist arrested because John points out he’s violating the law and the commandments by first having an adulterous affair with his brother’s wife and then marrying her. Think about the fact that Herod could’ve simply had him killed then and there had he wanted to. In other Gospel accounts, the fear of angering the crowds is one reason that is given – but Mark points out that Herod fears John because he knew him to be a righteous man and liked listening to him.
Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the Passion of St. John the Baptist- August 29, 2023. I appreciate your sharing this on your social media posts and your feedback and comments… I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim
That’s the first thing to reflect on. Just because we’re suffering temptation or even fallen and are in a state of sin, that doesn’t mean we’re not still attracted to truth, to goodness. For Herod, he knows what he’s doing is wrong. He knows he’s made some mistakes. He knows his life is a mess. And even though Herod has John locked up, he still listens. And Mark tells us, he liked listening to him.
Maybe Herod liked the idea of truly repenting. Maybe Herod heard in that something hopeful for him – a potential not just for him personally, but that could affect the entire region.
But look what happens? He has gotten too comfortable with his sinful lifestyle his bad choices. He has surrounded himself by people who have closed their minds and hearts to God’s word. And the more he does that, the more it dulls and numbs him. He does something that Jews didn’t do at the time, celebrate his birthday – that was something that the secular world was doing. He does so with great debauchery – where he allows the daughter of his wife to perform this seductive dance for him and what was mostly a male audience who were no doubt oggling over her – as they get more and more drunk. And in the mess of it all, Herod does something else that Jews were very careful about doing – making an oath “ASK WHATEVER YOU WANT.” You can even hear him slurring, “I’LL GIVE YOU HALF OF THE KINGDOM,” which he wasn’t even able to fulfill if she had come back saying “I want that.” It probably was a moment where as soon as he said that and looked at the faces of everyone, it was like, “OH CRAP WHAT DID I JUST SAY?”
That Herodias’ daughter comes back not asking for that was a short-lived relief, when he learns what in fact she does want “the head of John the Baptist.” No one speaks up. Herod sends one of his goons to do what he could never do, nor to face John one last time.
Theologically there’s a lot of significance to all this – John was the prophet meant to prepare the way for his cousin Jesus. The Church always saw Mark highlighting the similarities between the imprisonment and death of John the Baptist, and the passion of Jesus. Herod and Pilate, will both, acknowledge the holiness of life of the one over whom they unjustly exercise the power of condemnation and death. The hatred of Herodias toward John parallels that of the Jewish leaders toward Jesus. After the deaths of John and of Jesus, well-disposed persons request the bodies of the victims of Herod and of Pilate in turn to give them respectful burial.
But for our reflection today, we are meant to remember how easy it is to be like Herod. We can relate to knowing the right thing, even when we’ve done the wrong something. Feeling that tension between wanting to make a change but worrying about what our friends and our families will say… Falling into sin by our unchecked desires, our basest instincts, and even our pride and weakness.
We have to decide, though, what’s next? Will we choose Faith over fear?
Herod is all about fear, while John the Baptist’s entire life was consumed in faith in the power of God’s Word that has come to save us.
As powerful as Herod was, and by his word, John the Baptist lost his life. But while Herod’s fear resulted in John’s head being cut off, Herod and his fear could not cut off John’s message, and the call to faith resounds to this day: Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the world’s sin. Where Herod thought first and only of himself and his desires, John the Baptist prepared the way for another – one who was mightier than he and whose death and resurrection would be our salvation.
There is no question that we have the temptation and capacity to sin. But we also have the ability and grace to repent. And we have the forgiveness and mercy of God when we do. May we, with God’s help, testify as John the Baptist did, to this Good News. May God protect us from all evil through all of our days.
And may we have the courage to allow our faith to overcome any of our fears that is causing us to resist the call of John – to repent, for God’s Kingdom is at hand.