Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist

Monday, August 28, 2017


1 Thes 2:1-8; Ps 139:1-6; Mt 23:23-26

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.”

The LORD both searches, probes, and finds out who we are, who we really are, inside and out. Indeed, the LORD knows us because he wants to know us. He is interested in our well-being; he wants to know all the details of our life. He can be bothered with us. Unlike many others in our lives, the LORD has the time and the energy to probe and search us. He knows when we sit to rest or ponder in prayer and meditation, or conversation and counsel. He knows when we stand to identify ourselves, and we make known our position about the burning issues of our day. The LORD understands our thoughts without interfering in our freedom. He even allows us to make mistakes and come to bad judgments. He does not make us fail, but he allows us, by his passive will, to fail. This is for our growth in wisdom and trust in his power to save us. We are not out own redeemed; God alone saves. In all our journeys and all our rest the LORD scrutinizes us. He is more familiar with us than we are with ourselves. Even though he knows us through and through, the LORD loves what his hands have made, and to us the Breath of God has given life. The knowledge of the LORD is not limited to our time and space condition; even before we speak he knows the word in our mind and on our tongue. Indeed from his eternal gaze, the LORD knows the whole of it. The best part of the LORD’s knowledge is that it is not intrusive nor does it violate our freedom, as a matter of face it assures and generates true freedom. We are not limited or enslaved by our feelings or our habits. The LORD is behind and before, and his all-powerful hand rests upon us. His divine knowledge is all together too wonderful for us, too lofty for us to attain. Such intimacy liberates us. Just knowing that the LORD knows us so completely and loves us still is true beatitude. 

Saint Paul suffered insolence in Philippi, but this lack of respect and rejection did not stifle his missionary zeal. These people doubted his motivation and could not perceive his love. His public humiliation and personal agony among the Philippians were the source of great blessing for the Apostle. Indeed, he learned humility, and he learned to trust the LORD from his suffering. The preaching of Saint Paul was not motivated from any delusion or manipulation on his part. Rather, he was open and clear about his burning desire to have his congregation grow in spiritual maturity and in union with the living God. He did not trick them. He did not try to deceive them. Indeed, Saint Paul was judged worthy by God to be entrusted with the preaching of the Good News of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Such exhortation made demands on the hearers. He summoned them to holiness and self-sacrifice. He called them to be one with the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus. He did not try to ingratiate himself with those who listen to his preaching, nor did he try to manipulate them into giving him money for his own benefit. Rather, his knowledge of the LORD’s love enabled him to be persuasive and convincing while summoning his congregation to conversion and new life. Such a rebirth was possible because Saint Paul loved as God loves. In his mother-like tenderness Saint Paul was willing to give his sons and daughters not only words of wisdom and knowledge, he freely offered himself as a living sacrifice of praise. Such a labor of love is the only way to bring Christians to rebirth from on high, new life in the Holy Spirit. When we really love others we want the very best for them. When we love others we want them to be one with the LORD and to share such unity forever in heaven. Anything less is an effort to manipulate honor and respect from the crowd. Anything other motivation is merely self-interest and self-aggrandizement.

What kind of a sick and twisted girl would ask for someone’s head on a platter? Such horror is not limited to the past; even in our own day we hear the news of terrorist executions. Decapitation is still a favorite. Herodias, the girl’s mother, harbored a grudge against Saint John and wanted to kill him, but her desire went unfulfilled until the king made foolish oaths. Even though Herod feared Saint John because he was so upright and holy, the king did not understand the preaching of the Prophet. Herod liked to listen to Saint John, but the more he listened the more perplexed he became. He missed the beauty of the truth that the Baptist preached, but the beauty of the dance captivated the heart of the king. He wanted to honor such a beautiful display to reveal his good taste and royal dignity. However, in his foolishness, the king made a promise to do anything whatever the girl asked. At this moment Herodias takes full advantage of her lover’s foolishness. Now, she had the power to fulfill her desire to silence the Prophet’s public criticism of her adultery. In her foolishness, she thought that having Saint John beheaded would put an end to his painful wisdom. It is the blood of the Baptist that continues to speak the truth from age to age. The witness of Saint John to the justice of God, a justice that even absolute and tyrannical rulers cannot ignore, points to the definitive truth of God’s justice in the Incarnate Word nailed to the cross out of love. The love of Christ, the Crucified, is prefigured in the self-sacrifice of Saint John. As we reflect upon the martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist we catch a glimpse of the wisdom and strength from on high, in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

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