Liturgical Colour : Red
Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we mark the memorial feast of St. John the Baptist and his passion, that is when he faced his sufferings and last moments on this world, enduring imprisonment and incarceration by Herod, the king of Galilee, son of Herod the Great, the king who once tried to kill Jesus in His infancy. St. John the Baptist was imprisoned as he spoke bluntly and harshly against the king’s adulterous behaviour with the wife of his deceased brother.
In the Jewish society and according to the laws of Moses, the wife of one’s brother is the same as one’s own sister, and this is related to how in marriage, the man and the woman are no longer separate peoples, but had been joined together by God to be one, and that what God had made one, let no one separate, as Jesus had said it. And even when the brother of king Herod died, that does not mean that the bonds of marriage and unity blessed by God had been broken. This is why the action of Herod in making her brother’s wife as queen is considered adultery.
But one may then ask, is not according to the laws of Moses that the brother of a deceased man ought to take care of and marry the deceased man’s wife, taking her as his own? This is what happens when people did not understand the purpose of the Law, as it is clear that Herodias and Philip, the brother of king Herod had a daughter, the one whom the king was pleased with in the festival and celebrations we heard in the Gospel today.
The Law stated that the allowance for this practice is such that the deceased man may have a child that will continue his name and inheritance even after he died, and that child will be his brother’s child biologically, but legally considered as the deceased man’s child. But this was created in fact to cater and accommodate to the obstinate and hard-headed behaviours of the people of Israel, who constantly and continuously complained against the Lord during their forty years journey in the desert.
Jesus came to perfect the Law of God and to reveal the fullness of truth about them, that the Law truly was meant for the good of mankind, and to guide them in the ways of the Lord, that they would not steer away from it, and thus fall into the corruption of sin and the flesh. And through this, it was why the actions of Herod and Herodias were truly abominable before the Lord, as not only that Herod and Herodias committed an inappropriate relationship before the Lord, but also that they committed many other sinful deeds on their own persons.
Today we are reminded that courage which was shown by St. John the Baptist in defending the truth of the Lord, by speaking up not just against the corrupt Pharisees and elders of Israel, but even against a king and his queen, who was engaged in adultery. St. John the Baptist did not flinch or be afraid to do and say what is right, and speak out against what is wrong.
It is exactly what the Lord had said to the prophet Jeremiah in the first reading today, where we heard how God called him out of the people of Judah, to be his spokesperson and representative, to be the one who spoke His words and judgments to the people of the kingdom of Judah. The kingdom of Judah was then a shadow of its former glory, and the people of God had not been faithful, often they worshipped pagan gods and did not remain true to the commandments and laws of God.
Hence, Jeremiah was called and sent to speak to this rebellious and unfaithful people, so that they hopefully might listen to the Lord speaking through Jeremiah and repent from their sinfulness. Jeremiah suffered and was persecuted, opposed and imprisoned for his works and devotions to God and His people. The people to whom Jeremiah had been sent to, continued to rebel and disobeyed the Lord ever more, which eventually led to their destruction at the hands of the Babylonians.
The same too had happened to St. John the Baptist, who was sent to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, who was none other than Jesus, the Son of God Himself. St. John the Baptist was sent to make straight the path for the coming of Christ, and He did his duties responsibly and filled with zeal and faith to God. He too was rejected and doubted by the Pharisees and the elders, and these people refused to listen to the word of God and repent, just as they would later refuse to listen to Jesus.
Yet, what we can learn from this is that, while those to whom these saints were sent to did not listen and persecute these holy servants of God, God did not leave these holy servants of His alone. He gave them strength and encouragement to continue to persevere through the difficulties and oppressions they had to go through in life. And in that, they become an example for us to follow.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, today let us all reflect on our lives, on whether we have been righteous and faithful in our actions, or whether we have erred and walked away from the path of the Lord. We should avoid the actions of king Herod who gave in to his desires and human weaknesses, submitting to the power of the temptation of the flesh. Instead we should strengthen our faith and solidify within us the faith that God had placed in our hearts, like what Jeremiah and St. John the Baptist had done.
May Almighty God bless us and keep us, that in all things we may be ever faithful, that we may be ever ready to defend our faith, this faith, devotion and love we have for God, that the Lord will find us worthy at the last day when the Lord will judge us for our actions and deeds, and bring us into the everlasting glory He promised for us. God bless us all. Amen.