Memorial of the Passion of John the Baptist
Yesterday we remembered the life of an honest man; today we remember the death of one. Out of concern for Herod’s soul and the souls of many others who might be scandalized or tempted by the ruler’s poor example, John criticized his marrying his sister-in-law. While we likely will not be beheaded for our efforts, many of us can likely relate to John’s difficulty.
Like St. Monica, John’s entire life was thrown into the effort of participating in Christ’s saving work. He preached repentance and ministered a baptism that symbolized—publicly—a person’s wholesale rejection of their past sin and resolution to live a holy life. Many of John’s disciples would come to follow Jesus and receive the Baptism not only of water, but of Spirit as well. His whole purpose, according to Gabriel in the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, was to prepare the way of the Lord; how could John have kept quiet, even to save his head?
Yet we read the gruesome tale of what ultimately happened: Herod, falling to the temptation of keeping up the appearance of being an honorable man, does the dishonorable deed of slaughtering the last prophet. Though he was a powerful ruler he could not withstand the thought of publicly going against his word, of making filthy the outside of the vessel. Yet by his action we see the vessel is just as filthy inside, whereas the bloodied, decapitated corpse of John the Baptist, clad in camel hair and covered in the filth of prison, is pristine by far.
John cared nothing for the favor of Herod but only the favor of his Lord, daring imprisonment and death for the sake of the Gospel. As we continue venturing toward the gate of God’s Kingdom, let us pray for the courage to love even a great and terrible sinner so much; for the love John showed Herod is but a dim reflection of the love Christ showed us upon the Cross and shows us still.