29Aug 29 August 2013. Thursday, The Beheading of St John the Baptist (Memorial)

Jer 1:17-19: The prophet is urged by God to proclaim the truth, no matter what.

Mk 6:17-29. Mark’s graphic account of how King Herod had the Baptist beheaded, to silence his critical voice.

First Reading: Jeremiah 1:17-19

But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them.

And I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land – against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land.They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.

Gospel: Mark 6:17-29.

King Herod 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 rushed 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.

The Death of the Baptist

John the Baptist was called by God to be the forerunner of Jesus, the Messiah. From his late teenage years he was directed by the Spirit to lead an austere and contemplative life in the wilderness until he was thirty years of age, when he began to discharge his mission as a preacher of reform and renewal. Clothed in the robes of penance, be invited his people to have their sins washed away by repentance and baptism in the Jordan; and he proclaimed the Messiah who was coming to among them. He was revered by the people as a true prophet of God, and his voice rang out with a clear summons to moral and religious reform. John’s message angered king Herod Antipas and his paramour Herodias, the wife of Herod’s brother Philip, with whom he lived in defiance of the law. The Baptist boldly reproached them for the scandal of an incest and adultery, and was imprisoned by Herod.

At a splendid entertainment in the royal palace, Salome, the daughter of Philip and Herodias, captivated the company by her dancing, so that Herod promised her to grant whatever she asked. Urged by her mother, the girl demanded the death of John the Baptist, to be brought to her in a dish. Acting on her wishes, Herod had the Saint beheaded in prison. According to St. Jerome, the furious Herodias made it her pastime to prick that silenced tongue with a dagger.

Today’s feast honours this the great forerunner of Jesus, who gave his life for the truth, about a year before our blessed Saviour’s own death on the cross.