King Herod heard about it, for his fame had become widespread, and people were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him.” Others were saying, “He is Elijah”; still others, “He is a prophet like any of the prophets.” But when Herod learned of it, he said, “It is John whom I beheaded. He has been raised up.” Herod was the one who had John the Baptist arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married. John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Herodias harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so. Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him. Herodias had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday, gave a banquet for his courtiers, his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee. Herodias’s own daughter came in and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.” He even swore many things to her, “I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of 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 back to the king’s presence and made her request, “I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was deeply distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her. So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head. He went off and beheaded him in the prison. He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl. The girl in turn gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. ( Mark 6:14-29)
This is the one scene in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus is not mentioned. Many theologians believe that it was deliberately written so that we could focus on the character of John the Baptist.
He was a man of great conviction, of deep faith, of great courage and he was a man who had an unswerving commitment to truth – regardless of the cost.
He showed us to live what he was preaching, namely to repent and believe, to make straight the paths of the Lord, and to follow the Lamb of God. He showed us how to die in fidelity to the Lord until the end. His faith has always been placed forward for us to imitate.
While we may never be faced with the ultimate sacrifice of offering our lives up for Christ, the question remains of what we would be willing to endure. Would we risk ridicule, misunderstanding, loss of popularity or even the loss of friends simply for speaking the truth?
There is a warning here. We are always in danger of making choices that undermine our faith and align us not with God’s kingdom, but rather with the principalities and powers of this world. A little compromise here … a little laziness there …a little winking of the eye . . .too much of tuning out the world so we have” peace” and suddenly we wake up in a place that is far removed from where we should be standing as a faithful, committed follower of Jesus Christ.
Our lives are filled with choices . . . especially if you spend at least some of your time living in a banquet hall where there is so much power and so much entertainment and so much to eat and drink that the faithful choices can become hard to see–until distant lives have been harmed or even lost and we are somehow involved, if not directly responsible.
The Gospel lesson reminds us that the task of following Jesus will never be easy. The road is rocky. Resistance can be expected. We still live in a world where those entrusted with political power live in fear that their authority will be challenged. Too many leaders are committed to expediency, and willing to compromise truth, justice, and compassion if they think it will win some votes.
Jesus calls us to belong to Him, speaking the truth no matter the cost, working as best we can to bring justice for all, and living lives of compassion and concern for those in need. Jesus calls us to live beyond ourselves. Let us strive to do so with God’s help.
Prayer of The Day
“Holy and merciful God, give us courage to choose your way in the midst of so many choices. Empower us to live the prayer Jesus has taught us: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth–this earth–as it is in heaven.”
The story of John’s beheading is shocking, and it’s meant to be–to shock us out of complacency in a faith that comes at little or no cost. Relatively few Christians, thanks be to God, are called to be martyrs. But all of us who would follow Christ are called to confront, as well as we can, the wrong we see around us, and confrontation is never comfortable. To pay that price is to stand with many who followed the path that John prepared for the One who came after him.