Sunday, August 28, 2011


“The Beheading of St. John the Baptist”
by Carel Fabritius, c. 1640
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Readings and Commentary: [2]


The word of the LORD came to me thus:
Gird your loins;
stand up and tell them
all that I command you.
Be not crushed on their account,
as though I would leave you crushed before them;
For it is I this day
who have made you a fortified city,
A pillar of iron, a wall of brass,
against the whole land:
Against Judah's kings and princes,
against its priests and people.
They will fight against you, but not prevail over you,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.
Commentary on Jer 1:17-19

This selection is part of the “Call of Jeremiah”.  The Lord speaks prophetically of coming difficulties for Jerusalem.  During this period Jeremiah will be challenged and persecuted for his role as God’s Prophet.  Here he tells the reader that he (God) has fortified the prophet for this task and the Lord’s strength will ensure the success of Jeremiah’s prophetic mission.


R. (see 15ab) I will sing your salvation.

In you, O LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me, and deliver me;
incline your ear to me, and save me.
R. I will sing your salvation.

Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked.
R. I will sing your salvation.

For you are my hope, O LORD;
my trust, O God, from my youth.
On you I depend from birth;
from my mother's womb you are my strength.
R. I will sing your salvation.

My mouth shall declare your justice,
day by day your salvation.
O God, you have taught me from my youth,
and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.
R. I will sing your salvation.

Psalm 71 is an individual lament. In this section we hear a profession of faith in the saving power of God. In the third strophe we also find a link to the call of Jeremiah before his birth. In both cases the servant is known by God and prepared for his service from the womb.


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.
She 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' 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.
Commentary on  Mk 6:17-29

The story of St. John the Baptist life from St. Mark’s Gospel gives a concise picture of St. John’s end. Especially here we note the similarities between the passing of St. John and the passion of Jesus in Mark 15:1-47 . The rationale in both cases was the anger and guilt felt at the truth proclaimed; in the case of John the guilt of Herodias, in the case of Jesus, the Jewish leaders. Both Herod and Pilot acknowledge the holiness of the ones they are to put to death. In both cases following the executions, faithful followers insure the body is given a respectful burial. St. Matthew’s Gospel gives a more complete introduction of Herod and Herodias (see Matthew 14:1-3). The actual account presented here is done as a flashback as Herod questions the identity of Jesus whose disciples have just been sent into his region with great authority.

CCC: Mk 6:17-29 523
We continue to marvel at God’s plan for us as we are given the end of St. John the Baptist. From the womb he was chosen to be a forerunner of Jesus Christ. He was the one predicted by the prophets – the new Elijah who prepared the way for Jesus’ mission on earth – the ultimate revelation of God in human flesh. He preceded Jesus in life, in ministry, and, as we see in Mark’s Gospel, in his death at the hands of those he invited to repent and return to the path to God’s Kingdom.

In his martyrdom St. John the Baptist shared in Christ’s victory. Victory? One might think that being beheaded by a lecherous, hedonistic, and sadistic ruler like Herod was not a victory. Yet, as St. Paul points out in his First Letter to the Corinthians, Jesus used the cross to redefine victory. His death became a defeat for death, for all those who lay aside the wisdom of the world and have faith.

And what practical lesson do we take away from this “redefinition,” this incredible act that defies the wisdom of the world, and changes the perspective of those struggling to know God? First, with intense humility, we thank God for giving us the faith needed to understand how his love expressed itself through the sacrifice of his Son, foreshadowed by St. John’s own death. We see in the events that unfold in the Gospel that we must not expect the world to welcome the love we offer as followers of Christ.  We know Jesus obediently followed St. John in death at the hands of his captors.

We thank God for the examples of St. John the Baptist and all the Saints who have gone before us in faith, for their examples of heroic fidelity to the Lord, and their unswerving dedication to passing on the message they were given. We pray today that our own examples of faith will give encouragement to our brothers and sisters who, like St. John, are persecuted for their faith, and demonstrate for those who have not heard the Lord’s call that his hand is outstretched to them as well.

[1] The Picture is “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist” by Carel Fabritius, c. 1640
[2] The readings are taken from the New American Bible with the exception of the Psalm and its response which were developed by the International Committee for English in Liturgy (ICEL). This re-publication is not authorized by USCCB and is for private use only.

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