Wednesday, 29 August 2018 : 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 celebrate the feast of the Passion of St. John the Baptist, which marks the moment when St. John the Baptist suffered and endured death because of his righteousness and courage against the king Herod of Galilee. St. John the Baptist spoke up against the king on his adulterous behaviour with Herodias, his deceased brother’s wife, and as a result he was put in prison.

St. John the Baptist was the one whom God sent into this world to be the Herald of the Messiah, the one who would proclaim the coming of the Saviour of the world and the one who would prepare the way for the coming of Christ. He called many people to repent from their sins, and baptised them with water in the River Jordan. He spoke up against the sins and wickedness of the people, and called them to turn away from those sins.

He did not mince his words when he spoke up against the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who came to him and questioned the origin of his teachings and baptism, calling those people as brood of vipers. He acted in the same way towards the king and his entourage, speaking out on the king’s adulterous behaviour and actions. This was what St. John the Baptist had done, even though surely he must have known that it would have landed him in prison.

In the first reading today, God spoke to His prophet Jeremiah, whom He sent to the people of Judah during the last years of existence of the kingdom of Judah just prior to the destruction of the First Temple of Jerusalem. He promised and reassured the prophet that He would be with him, even when the whole world rose up against him, and despite all the challenges he had to endure.

And today, we are reminded that we can indeed learn from these experiences the servants of God had endured. First of all, we are reminded that God is always with us, and He is always on our side, even when things are not in our favour, or when seemingly everything goes against us in our lives. Many of us did not dare or were reluctant and hesitating in fulfilling God’s commandments, because we were afraid of the opposition against us.

It is natural for us to feel fear and insecurity from all these oppositions and challenges. No one, no matter how courageous or brave, will not be affected by fear in their hearts, as it is part of our human weaknesses and nature. But that is why, as Christians, all of us must remember that God is always by our side, no matter what happens. Sometimes it is just that we do not realise how He has done His works in our midst.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is also important that we also take note how easily we can fall into temptations, and therefore, fall into sin. That was what happened to the people living at the time of the prophet Jeremiah, as well as to king Herod. The people living in Judah at that time lived wickedly, following the unlawful practices of their neighbours, enticed by worldly wealth and power.

And as we all just discussed, king Herod gave in to the temptation of his flesh, the temptation of worldly beauty and sexual pleasures in committing adultery with Herodias, his deceased brother’s wife, who already had a child. Herodias herself also likely gave in to the temptation of power and glory, by agreeing to enter into an inappropriate relationship with king Herod.

We heard how Herod fell to the temptation when the daughter of Herodias danced before Herod. He was so swayed and tempted that he made easy promises that he did not think about carefully beforehand. In the end, because of that action, he ended up committing the sin of murder, when Herodias asked her daughter to ask Herod to bring her the head of St. John the Baptist on a plate right there and then.

This is where we need to be vigilant, brothers and sisters in Christ, that we guard ourselves against the advances of the devil and his forces, who are always trying to strike at us at every available opportunity, to bring us down through temptations and the many traps they carefully laid down in our path towards God and His salvation. Let us all keep this in mind as we live our lives in this world.

May the Lord strengthen us in our faith, that we may follow in the footsteps of St. John the Baptist, his courageous servant, that we will not be easily tempted and swayed by the temptations of this world, and remain true to our faith despite the challenges and difficulties we may encounter for being faithful to the Lord. May He empower us all to become His good and faithful disciples, now and always. Amen.

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