Thursday, February 2, 2017

THE DEATH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST


Homily for February 3rd, 2017: Mark 6:14-29.

          Herod had thrown John the Baptist into prison, today’s gospel tells us, “on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip.” Herod divorced his first wife, in order to marry the wife of his still living brother Philip, a woman named Herodias. No wonder that John denounced Herod. He had divorced his wife in order to marry his still married sister-in-law. This earned John the Baptist the hatred of two people, both equally unscrupulous: Herod and Herodias.

          Herodias sees her chance for revenge at a drunken party hosted by her second husband, Herod. Aroused by the dance of Herodias’ daughter – unnamed here, but celebrated in literature and in a well known opera as Salome – Herod promises the girl, under oath, that he will give her anything she asks for, up to half of his kingdom. Not knowing how to respond, the girl consults her mother, who tells her to ask for the head of John the Baptist, whom Herod has imprisoned to keep him out of the public eye.  

          Aghast at the girl’s request, but unwilling to violate his oath, made before so many witnesses, Herod orders John’s immediate execution, without judge, jury, or trial. It is hard to conceive of something more cruel and unjust than the squalid story our gospel reports.

          Is that all just long ago and far away? Don’t you believe it! The media report similar outrages all the time: Muslims threatened with death, or actually killed, for converting to Christianity; a Christian missionary sentenced to death for preaching Christ in an Islamic country, and saved only by a worldwide outcry; the teenage girl in Afghanistan who survived an assassination attempt by terrorists who oppose education for women. Fortunately she was nursed back to health in England, and lived to tell her story before a meeting of the United Nations in New York. And now there are the beheadings in Syria and the burning alive of a capture Jordanian pilot.

          How could we better respond to the atrocity reported in today’s gospel than to pray in this Mass for the countless victims of injustice and terror in the world today?