Elijah and John the Baptist

Mark 6: 14-29
Heb 13:1-8 / Psa 27

Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist.
(Matthew 11:11)

St. John the Baptist is our model,
For truth his life he sacrificed;
Let his courage be our example,
To be a herald for 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!” On the prodding of Herodias, Herod gave orders to have John arrested, and put in prison. It was because St. John had been telling 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. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. The daughter of Herodias came in and danced, pleasing Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” He even made an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” She went to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” She 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 the head of John the Baptist on a dish.” The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he could not refuse her. So he promptly sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought 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

King Herod here is losing his mind. He is tormented by his conscience for murdering an innocent and holy man in order to fulfill a foolish promise he made to Salome, the daughter of his illegitimate wife Herodias in front of his guests during his birthday bash. The tyrant King Herod has a similar counterpart in the Old Testament (1 Kings 16:29-33), King Ahab, during the time of Elijah the prophet. King Ahab did evil in the sight of the Lord more than any of his predecessors. Going against the will of God, he married Jezebel, daughter of a Sidonian king, and was swayed into worshipping her god, Baal. He built a temple for Baal and worshipped in his altar. Yahweh God sent His prohet Elijah to condemn his apostasy.

Many of the Jews in Jesus’ time believed that the great prophet Elijah had returned as St. John the Baptist. Jesus Himself said, “And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come” (Mt. 11:14). After His transfiguration with Elijah and Moses, Jesus again said, “I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.” And the disciples understood that He was speaking to them about John the Baptist (Mt.17:12-13).

Elijah was the greatest of God’s prophets in the Old Testament. He spoke up for the truth, and was tormented by King Ahab and his wife Jezebel for it. Parallel to Elijah’s mission and predicament, St. John was also God’s foremost herald for truth and repentance, facing up to a similar tyrant (King Herod) and his illegitimate wife (Herodias) because their illicit affair set a bad example to the people.
Men of power can turn into the biggest fools when it comes to the wiles of women. King Herod knew that John the Baptist was a holy man, and was even afraid of him. But because of his misplaced sense of values, he allowed a mere dancer to ruin his soul. Such was the curse of adultery that befell him. St. John lost his head, but gained eternal glory; Herod lost his soul, and gained eternal ridicule.

Dear God, may this story of St. John keep us constant in the 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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