Jer 26:11-16, 24; Ps 69:15-16,30-31,33-34; Mt 14:1-12
Those who are poor, economically deprived and the spiritually poor, can put their trust in the LORD. Indeed, the lowly ones are called to rejoice and be glad. Those who seek the LORD are invited to a revival of heart. Such is the delight and revelry found in our responsorial psalm. We join the prayer of this psalm as we plead that those who are sinking into the mire be rescued. We plead that those who are over their heads in hatred and distain be pulled from the watery depths that threaten to overwhelm them. We cry out for all who are about to be swallowed up by the abyss. O LORD do not let the pit close its mouth over them! In their affliction and pain let your saving help O LORD protect them and raise them up. Our prayer is full of hope and we praise the Name of The LORD. Indeed, in our petition we already glorify God with thanksgiving because we have every confidence in his great love. The Prophet Jeremiah is not afraid in the face of those who hate him, and he is rescued from their plans to kill him for speaking in the name of the LORD. The Prophet John has no fear and challenges an unjust ruler; such a bold witness to God’s justice results in his being beheaded. Eventually Jeremiah died, and both Jeremiah and John await the resurrection of the dead even as they already share in the glory of the lowly and humble Servant of the LORD, Jesus Christ. In his poverty and powerlessness the LORD transcended his own limitations as God and entered into death and destroyed death by dying. This is the hope that nourishes us at the Cross of Christ whose one holy sacrifice lifts all our petitions before the Throne of Glory.
In a court of justice the brotherhood of the priests and the school of the prophets accuse Jeremiah before the princes and all the people. They demand, “This man deserves death; he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.” We know from yesterday’s first reading that the Prophet spoke, not against the city, but against the sin that this city and its princes and people tolerate or even enjoy. In his response to his accusers Jeremiah speaks with complete confidence in the LORD. He can only speak the truth in love to his accusers, “It was the LORD who sent me to prophesy against this house and city all that you have heard. Now, therefore, reform your ways and your deeds; listen to the voice of the LORD your God, so that the LORD will repent of the evil with which he threatens you.” In a rhetorical move that appeals to their faith, the Prophet continues boldly. If you choose to kill me, you will be shedding innocent blood. Finally, the people and the princes stand up to the priests and prophets, “This man does not deserve death; it is in the name of the LORD, our God, that he speaks to us.” This powerful struggle between the religious leaders and the rulers of the state hints about the kind of popular support that John the Baptist has and the Lord Jesus has among the crowds. The lowly and the poor rejoice to hear the good news of the Kingdom of God. To those who have nothing in this world the very promise of God’s justice and peace is enough to give them hope to live another day even in the midst of their poverty and powerlessness. The fear of God among the people and even among the princes reminds us of the hesitation of Herod and his later fear that John had been raised from the dead. We who share in the prophetic identity and ministry of the Lord Jesus have the great confidence of Prophet Jeremiah and Saint John as an example of the kind of stance we should take when being threatened by any religious or political tyrant.
Saint Matthew displays the fear Herod felt for what it is, not the fear of God, but the fear of the people who might not support his tenuous position of authority, if he killed their prophet. The Lord used this impure motive to give Saint John a little more time in prison. Time he may have used to send a message and receive a message from the Lord Jesus. In another gospel account this communication between the messiah and his forerunner was a great source of comfort for the imprisoned prophet. Again and again through history we have the confrontation of the prophet and the prince. The voice of God comes as a warning and a threat to the political leader. This message the prophet boldly announces, even in public places where Herod or any tyrant would like to think he has total control. Such absolute control is illusion and deception. Herod seems to have absolute power because his mere whim is law; in his world–might makes right. He can order the death of God’s mouthpiece, but as he later finds out, the Voice of God is not silenced. The preaching and miracles of the Lord Jesus threatens his world and his superstitious faith causes him to tremble. Perhaps this John was the long awaited prophet and now in a risen state he is even more dangerous than before being sacrificed to the pride and weakness of the king’s ego. That’s the way it is all through history for those who think they have complete power; they are constantly threatened by everything and everyone who doesn’t fit into their safe and secure world. This is just as true today. Politicians are never comfortable with those who challenge their power, especially if they have been raised from the dead. Followers of Christ have been plunged into the baptism of his death and raised on high in the glory of his resurrection. Such as these, who do not fear death, could be something of a problem for tyrants, even elected ones.