Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist
(1 Thes 2:1-8; Mk 6:17-29)
An anecdote was written about the funeral of Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill arranged his own funeral. There were stately hymns in St. Paul’s Cathedral and an impressive liturgy. When they said the benediction, he had arranged for a bugler high in the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral one one side to play “Taps,” the universal signal that the day is over. But when that was finished, there was a long pause and then a bugler on the other side played “Reveille,” to signal of a new day beginning. It was Churchill’s way of communicating that while we say “good night” here, it’s “good morning” up there. (taken from Preachers Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations, by Robert J. Morgan, p. 190) A meaningful death is a noble way of leaving this world. Many die for others to live, many die for others to change their lives, and many die for others to find meaning in life. Today, we remember the passion of John the Baptist. His existence and death foreshadowed the entire life and death of Christ. He was known to be the precursor of Christ. As a forerunner, he became the image of Christ’s life and passion which will happen in the future. Let us look into the meaning of John’s passion into our life.
1. Path of Life. As a precursor of the Christ, John the Baptist was prepared by God to be the image of the life, ministry, and death of His Son on earth. The Baptist was born through the announcement of the angel Gabriel in a miracle that should happen in the barren womb of Elizabeth for “nothing is impossible with God.” The announcement of his birth foreshadowed the announcement of the birth of Christ through the angel. His ministry of preaching and baptizing will foreshadow Jesus’ ministry in the future. Now, his preaching will cause his death. Jesus’ proclaimation of the Kingdom, introducing the Father to the people, and His words will cause also His rejection and death. Bible scholars say that this account of the circumstances of his arrest and death is introduced here in order to explain Herod’s statment. Herod had married a daughter of Aretas, king of the Nabataeans, but while on a journey to Rome became infatuated with Herodias the wife of Philip, a half-brother of his, who lived as a private citizen. When Herod’s wife became of his intention to divorce her she fled to her father, while Herodias abandoned her husband and went to live with Herod. The Law, Lev 18:16, 20:21 expressly reprobated such a union, and John did not hesitate to denounce it. Thus, fidelity to the law entails sacrifice even to the extent of offering once life. John was a living example of the Word of God and the Law as symbols of life and rectification of life. John incurred the enmity of Herodias who “nursed a grudge” against him (MK 6:19) and wanted to have him put to death. Then, Herodias had the chance when the King was delighted by the dance of the her daughter to behead John the Baptist. The brutal murder of John the Baptist anticipated the kind of death Jesus would undergo.
2. Holiness of life. The holiness of life John the Baptist projected is fascinating and interesting at this point. Holiness is a gift and it has its own power to be shared and influence people. Herod becomes a living example of what holiness of life could do to others. As a gift and power of God, holiness of life influences and progressively rectifies a person. Let us look closely on the reaction of Herod upon knowing John the Baptist: first, Herod did not react against John’s word when John said “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” The power of John’s word began stirring conversion in Herod. It was Herodias only who reacted. Herod and Herodias illustrated the two faces of proclamation of the Word-others would accept symbolized by Herod’s reaction while others will reject the word symbolized by Herodias’ reaction. Second, Herod feared John. Wisdom began now to work in the mind and heart of Herod. To fear the Lord is the first stage of wisdom (Prov 9:10). Third, when Herod heard John speak, he was perplexed. The Word of God has the power to make a person be confronted with a choice. Herod had to face a choice: the power of God or the power he has on his kingdom and subjects. Choice is not an easy task yet John the Baptist can be the guide towards a good choice. Fourth, Herod loved to listen to John. The Word of God is attractive. The Word of God influences and convinces the heart. St. Therese of the Child Jesus said “No sooner do I glance at the Gospel, but immediately I breathe in the fragrance of the life of Jesus and I know where to run.” Describing Herod as delighted to listen to John was tantamount to say that Herod loved to listen to God from the heart. We remember Benedict XVI saying “Every saint is like a ray of light streaming forth from the word of God.” Fifth, Herod became generous. He demonstrates what the Word of God could do to a person. Generosity is just one of the effects of the Word. But because of a faith that was just beginning to sprout in Herod, it became weak with the worldly allurements personified in Herodias’ desires and she represented as the enemy of the Word. The Word of God becomes power if man cooperates but in the case of Herod, the King cooperated with sin through the illusion of carnal desire. Nevertheless, the episode demonstrated to us the gift of holiness of life in John the Baptist.
3. Word of Life. The beheading of John the Baptist is a story of an encounter and a choice between the Word of Life and the human word. John the Baptist was preaching the Word of God that surfaced two kinds of reaction: Herod listened and accepted the Word while Herodias rejected and condemned John to death. The presence of John the Baptist created to kinds of emotion: Herod feared John as a holy man while Herodias harbored a grudge against him. The imprisonment of John the Baptist developed to kinds of action: Herod loved to listen to John while Herodias made the prison as the venue for beheading. Indeed, life is a choice and if one chooses the Word of Life, then earthly existence is nothing compared to the rewards of the Kingdom-eternal life. The Word of Life can never be separated from eternal life. We are told by Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians in the first reading today that St. Paul told them three things what the Word of God is all about: first, it is the source of his courage and the strength of the missionaries; second, the Gospel was entrusted to them and they have to proclaim the message to all; third, the Word of God becomes the measuring rod for judgment. They are just instruments of the Word and it is God who “judges our hearts.”
Tuesday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time Year 1
(Jgs 6:11-24a; Mt 19:23-30)
Mark Link, SJ opens his reflection for today’s reading with this reflection: George Burns starred in a film called Oh, God! He played the part of God and wore thick glasses and a funny little hat. John Denver played a supermarket employee. One day God appeared to the employee with a message for the people of the world. Getting people to take the message seriously turned out to be difficult. Soon the supermarket employee found himself on the verge of losing his job. He turned to God and said, “preaching your word is costing me my job!” God replied, “that’s not a bad trade, is it? Lose your job and save the world.” (taken from Illustrated Daily Homilies, by Mark Link, p.83) Both readings today speak of the difference between the effects of life with God and life with the world. Man may be attached to God and be detached from the world or be detached from the world and be attached to God. “No one can serve to two masters” which means to be attached to both at the same time. In the first reading, we were told about Gideon who was called by God to rescue the Israelites from the hands of the Midianites. He considered himself as “nobody” to be God’s instrument but “somebody” before God. Likewise, we were told that Jesus who said to His disciples the rich with the world will find it difficult to enter the Kingdom of God while the one who is rich with God in one’s life would inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us reflect into details here.
1. Human and divine- The human person is shaped according to his human and spiritual life. He does not live purely human or only focus on the spiritual while he lives in this world. The balance between the human and the spiritual has to be maintained. If the human side is only emphasized well then, life would just be materialistic. If the spiritual side is only emphasized then life would not be a good experience and every human action would scrupulously be evaluated as occasion for sin and not an occasion for God. Jesus becomes a true example of what is to be human and divine. It is Jesus who “tells us who man truly is and what a man must do in order to be truly human… He is also the life which all of us are seeking. He also shows us the way beyond death; only someone able to do this is a true teacher of life.” (Spe Salvi 6) In the Gospel today, Jesus brings about the difference between what is only to be human and what is to be with the divine. “For men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” For the rich who just remain to live a life that is purely human without transcending from his humanity will find it difficult to pass through the eye of a needle.
2. Impossibility and Difficulty- the Gospel helps us reflect on the value of God’s word in our day to day living. Through Jesus’ words we become acquainted with the Kingdom and the path towards it. Jesus today reminds us of the danger of riches. Biblical scholars say that the departure of the youth is the occasion of sad warning of Jesus to His disciples. It is with difficulty that the rich shall enter the kingdom of heaven. The saying surprises after our Lord’s distinction of moral precept, and counsel of poverty. He speaks, however, not of impossibility but of difficulty. Nor does he condemn the rich young man but illustrates from his case how riches may grip and even suffocate the heart. (taken from A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture by Dom Bernard Orchard, ed. Et al., p. 886)
3. Signs and symbols- Man lives in the mystery of God. He needs signs to be assured of God’s mysterious presence and he searches for symbols to remember and create in order to remember, respond, and reach God. In the first reading, we were told that Gideon wanted signs from the Lord to be assured in his mission of saving the Israelites from the hands and power of the Midianites. Two important signs were made by God to assure Gideon of His presence: first, the presence of an angel who appeared and greeted him “The Lord is with you, O champion!” second, the image of fire. Fire was always linked with God’s presence and His desire to speak to man. As a sign of Gideon’s faith and trust in God, he built an altar which he called Yahweh-shalom as a symbol of his gratitude and faith in God. Symbols are concrete manifestations or responses of faith to the benevolence of God. They become tangible elements to remember important people, events and dates.