Memorial of the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist

2Thes 3:6-10,16-18; Ps 128:1,2,4,5; Mk 6:17-29
“Your right hand holds me fast.”

The members of AA often remind each other that truth is God’s greatest ally. This morsel of wisdom is even more accurate within our faith tradition. The Eternal Son of the Eternal Father identifies himself in Saint John’s Gospel as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The truth of who we are and whose we are is the most profound truth we can know. It is also the most challenging and life-changing truth we can know. Today’s Responsorial Psalm invites us to ponder this truth. The ever searching and vigilant caring of the LORD, who searches and knows us, can feel a bit overwhelming. When the LORD gets so involved in our lives, we sometimes respond with hesitancy. Sometimes we even seek to distance ourselves from such intimate probing by the fire of God’s love and truth. We want to go somewhere away from his spirit. We want to flee from his fiery presence. Yet, there is no place to go and no place to hide. Even if we go up to the heavens, the LORD is there. Even if we sink into the nether world, the LORD is there. Even if we took on the wings of the dawn and flew from sunrise to sunset, to the farthest limits of the sea, even there the LORD’s hand would guide us. With his own right hand the LORD would hold us fast. He would walk with us through every valley of the shadow of death. He would never leave us alone. Even if we cry out to the darkness-“hide me;” the darkness is not dark for the LORD, and the night shines just like the day. Such is the persistent and penetrating power of the truth that sets us free. Saint Paul preaches just such a truth in today’s first reading. The Lord Jesus freely proclaims just such a truth to his public opponents who claim to love the prophets and the holy ones, yet do everything they can to discredit the Lord Jesus, who is The Prophet and The Holy One. Sometimes our polite external behavior is just the opposite of our hostile interior attitude. Sometimes we live double lives, and this kind of division is destructive of our integrity, and our inner peace.

The Apostle Paul gives thanks and praise to God in today’s second reading. He is joyous in the conversion of his children in the Body of Christ. These conversions are in response to the grace of God in the life, ministry and preaching of the Apostle. His witness is devout, just and blameless. This integrity is seen, by the LORD, and by those whom he loves and serves in his ministry. Saint Paul, like a loving father, exhorts his children and encourages them to walk in the Way of the LORD, living in a manner worth of the God who calls them into his Kingdom and glory. Saint Paul works day and night as a tent maker so as not to burden any of his converts. The truth of his preaching and the truth of his life-style is a convincing message. What he lives in his daily life is an honest reflection of the faith he cherishes in his heart. His actions are not so loud that his words cannot be heard. His actions are not just noise that blocks out his message. Finally, Saint Paul delights that his congregation has received his witness and his teaching as they are: the Word of God and not just the word of man. Indeed, it is this Word of God that is now at work in all who believe and strive to embody the truth they have received.

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.