2nd August. Saturday, Week 17
St Eusebius of Vercelli, bishop; also of St Peter Julian Eymard, priest.
Eusebius, born in Sardinia about 300, became the first bishop in Vercelli (northern Italy), in the early 340s. He led his clergy to form a monastic community modelled on that of the Eastern cenobites. Hence the Augustinians honor him along with Augustine as their founder. He sought a solution to the Arian crisis at the synod of Milan (355).
Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868) from Isère in the French Alps became a priest as a member of the Marist Fathers. Later he founded two religious institutes, the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament (for clerics) and the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, a contemplative congregation for women. One of his memorable sayings is, “You take communion to become holy, not because you already are.”
1) Jeremiah 26:11-16, 24
(Jeremiah stands by his threats against Jerusalem and its temple in God’s name. To kill the prophet is to shed innocent blood.)
Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.”
Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “It is the Lord who sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. Now therefore amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will change his mind about the disaster that he has pronounced against you. But as for me, here I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will be bringing innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”
Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God. ” But the hand of Ahikam son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah so that he as not given over into the hands of the people to be put to death.
Gospel: Matthew 14:1-12
(In the context of Herod’s confusion of Jesus with John the Baptist, Matthew tells the story of John’s martyrdom.)
At that time Herod the ruler heard reports about Jesus; and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him. ” For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been telling him, “It is not lawful for you to have her. ” Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet.
But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter. ” The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given; he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother. His disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus.
The secular face of redemption
Almost all the old Testament prophets express a burning indignation when an Israelite preyed on another Israelite, forced the sale of family inheritance, overlooked the needs of orphans and widows and turned might into right, just to impose their own desires. If even priests and temple officials supported such social injustices, then prophets like Jeremiah spoke out in the name of God, the people’s ultimate redeemer or go’el.
These social and secular overtones of redemption deserve our attention too. Theology must return to its biblical origins, which always shows God siding with the poor and defenceless. John the Baptist defended the rights of the ordinary people of his time and spoke up in the name of common decency. He died in this cause, protesting at Herod’s elaborate wealth, sensuality, envy, and human respect. His life was whisked away by a dancing girl, put on display by her dissipated step-father. Matthew even records Herod’s confusion between the Baptist and Jesus, whom he thought was John, raised from the dead. In a sense both Jesus and John the Baptist preached for the goals of the Jubilee Year and died in defence of the faithful life-bond between Israel and God.