Tuesday, 29 August 2017 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we remember the memory of the great saint and servant of God, St. John the Baptist and the moment of his Passion, when he suffered and died in the prison of king Herod of Galilee, echoing the Passion which his Lord and Master would suffer in His own Passion, His death on the cross. St. John the Baptist was arrested by king Herod because he criticised the king harshly for his adultery with his brother’s wife, Herodias.

King Herod has taken Herodias to be his own wife, after his brother’s death. In Jewish customs and in the laws of Moses, should a man dies without having a child with his wife, it was lawful and allowed for the brother of the deceased man to take the widow as a wife, as long as he was unmarried. Then, a child born from the union would be legally considered as the child of the deceased man. However, if we look more carefully at the Gospel passage today, we will be able to see that this was not the case for Herod and Herodias.

In the Gospel, we heard that the girl who danced before Herod and his guests was referred as the daughter of Herodias. This would mean that the girl was not the daughter of Herod and Herodias, but rather that of Philip, Herod’s deceased brother. And as Herod’s brother had a daughter with Herodias, his wife, it is therefore not lawful and an adultery for Herod to take Herodias as wife. And because he was the king of Galilee, such a wicked behaviour was particularly inappropriate for him, thus St. John the Baptist criticised him severely.

From what we have heard today, therefore there are two important things that we need to take note of as we remember the Passion of St. John the Baptist. First of all, all of us need to learn from the examples of St. John the Baptist, who remained strong and resolute through his mission as God’s messenger and herald, calling the people to repent from their sins and to change their ways so as to prepare for the Lord’s coming.

He did not even fear to call the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law as brood of vipers, for their hypocrisy and lack of faith, for their doubt in God’s works as shown through St. John the Baptist himself, and later on through Christ. And accordingly, he did not fear either to rebuke a king for his lack of faith and adultery, for the sin which he had committed before God, for his lack of proper morality.

And even when he was imprisoned, he continued to remain steadfast, and neither begged for his release, but continued to rebuke the king who came regularly to visit him. St. John the Baptist is an inspiration to all of us, in how all of us should live our faith with devotion. He has shown us the example of piety, steadfastness and faith, as well as humility, when he humbly acknowledged that the Lord Who came after him became more popular than he was.

Then, secondly, all of us need to take note of what happened between king Herod, Herodias and her daughter during the celebration. King Herod was so fascinated by the dance done by the daughter of Herodias, presumingly captivated by her beauty or by the sensual moves made in the dances made at the time, that he made lots of promises in front of his guests, even to the point of promising that he would give her everything she wanted.

What does this mean brothers and sisters in Christ? It means that all of us must always be vigilant, keeping watch on our eyes, ears, and all sorts of senses, guarding ourselves against the temptations which the devil are placing in our path through all the worldly allures we received, just as the daughter of Herodias enticed king Herod to give her and her mother the head of St. John the Baptist. In that manner, the king sinned because he murdered the good saint and servant of God due to his failure to restrain himself.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all keep these things in mind as we continue to live in this world, that we will always strive to do what is right and just in the presence of God, and turning away from the temptations of this world. Instead, let us all walk in the footsteps of St. John the Baptist and seek to remain faithful to God as he had been faithful to the very end. May the Lord be with us, and may He give us the courage to live like His beloved servant. Amen.

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