Friday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Hebrews 13:1ff. Recommendations to good morals, hospitality, contentment, to be mindful of prisoners and the persecuted.
Mark 6:14ff. Herod is curious about John the Baptist and about Jesus.Mark recounts the martyrdom of the Baptist.
Entertaining Angels Unaware
Today we commemorate great precursors of Jesus, people like John the Baptist in the gospel, and the long series of leaders in Hebrews. As it is summarized in Hebrews, “Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you; consider how their lives ended, and imitate their faith.” As the author of this document looked back over the two millennia of Israelite history and the magnificent “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1), they merge into the mystery of Jesus and in some way reflects the features of his character and mission, who is the same, “yesterday, today, and forever.”
These living portraits of Jesus are not silent and changeless, like photographs, forever declaring their immutable message as statues chiseled on stone. Those portrayed in Hebrews are living people, who struggled and decided as best they could under the circumstances of life. We are told of prisoners and refugees, of people humiliated by sexual temptations, of others jealous of wealthier neighbours. While we do find here a stern warning against “fornicators and adulterers,” the section concludes more positively: “The Lord is my helper, I am not afraid; What can anyone do to me?”
Amid the trials and questions of life there is no single solution revealed ahead of time, except the assurance that “the Lord is my helper,” an assurance repeated several times in the Scriptures (Ps 27:1; 118:6). However, that sort of providence seems to collapse in the gospel account of John the Baptist, ending hideously when the daughter gave to her mother the head of the Baptist on a platter. No wonder the memory of John haunted the uneasy sleep of King Herod, so that he hoped that somehow Jesus was John raised from the dead. But indeed, in a way Herod could not comprehend, John was not dead, but alive in Jesus who “is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
He is the same today, and forever. “Today” means that Jesus is here in the problems and temptations, in the tensions and hopes, even in the collapses and failures of life. He does not always provide quick answers and yet remains “my helper, so I will not be afraid” If there was still hope for King Herod, to recognize the Baptist still alive in Jesus and therefore still leading to Jesus; if there was hope for David who was swept by passion into adultery and murder – then no collapse in our lives is a final defeat. It can lead to repentance, humble compassion towards others, a renewed dependence on Jesus.
Jesus is present in our prisons and among the persecuted people of the world – just as he was the reason for the Baptist’s imprisonment and persecution. We must seek him in these areas that are enclosed, narrow, dark, lonely and seemingly hopeless – in prisons, and among the lowest migrant, unwelcome people in our midst. The way to seek Jesus is expressed magnificently in : “Love your fellow Christians always. Do not neglect to show hospitality, for by that means some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Even in our own personal lives, we may have entertained angels unbeknownst.
First Reading: Hebrews 13:1-8
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honour by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Gospel: Mark 6:14-29
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushe back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.