The Martyrdom of John the Baptist

Mark 6:14-29
Sir 47:2-11 / Psa 18

…when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”
(Mark 6:16)

John the Baptist is our model,
For Truth his life he sacrificed;
Let his courage be our ideal,
As followers of Jesus Christ.

King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” Others said, “He is Elijah.” And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.” But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” Her mother answered, “The head of John the Baptist.” At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:14-29)

Reflection

The story of John the Baptist and King Herod portrays two contrasting characters: one had the zeal and courage to proclaim the truth, even in the face of death by powerful people that he condemned for their sins; and the other who was not man enough to face the shame of backing out of a foolish oath he had made in front of his guests. The former was a holy man, vulnerable and undefiled, who devoted his entire life for the kingdom of God; the latter was the exact opposite: immoral, proud of his power, but corrupted by it. John the Baptist and King Herod: humility and hubris.

Divine intervention could have saved the life of John the Baptist as what happened in the case of the apostles in Acts 5:19. But this was not God’s plan. He allowed the death of the Baptist as an example for all Christians to learn that standing up for the truth and one’s conviction is more important than life itself. Throughout the history of the Church, John the Baptist has been and will always be revered as the first and greatest follower of Christ in living the ideal of integrity.

St. Paul followed the same path in proclaiming the Gospel to the Gentile world. He wrote: “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil.1:20-21) This is the same sentiment shared by all the martyrs and saints who took up their crosses to follow Jesus. By the example of John the Baptist and all the saints that followed him, may we also realize that Jesus is the primary principle in our life, because He is the Source of it, as well as its Goal. He is our reason for living, and even death has “lost its sting” because we see it as a welcome friend and gateway to Him. In the words of St. Paul, all believers can say, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” (Rom 8:18)

Father God, may this story of John the Baptist encourage us to persevere in virtues of standing up for the truth and being faithful to your laws so that we may never fall into traps devised by the Herodiases of this world. Amen.

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