John the Baptist and Herod

Mark 6: 14-29
Heb 13:1-8 / Psa 27:1,3,5,8-9

Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”
(Mark 6:14)

Be careful with the oaths you make,
Or face the consequence to choose:
The promise that you cannot break,
Or reputation that you’ll lose!

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.” Still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of long ago.” But when Herod heard this, he said, “John whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and 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 telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias hated John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a holy man. Hearing John, Herod 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?” 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 right 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

King Herod had a counterpart in the the Old Testament — King Ahab, during the time of Elijah the prophet (1 Kings 16:29-33). Like Herod, King Ahab sinned against the Lord by marrying Jezebel, the daughter of a pagan king, who swayed him into worshipping her god, Baal. He built a temple for Baal and worshipped in his altar. The prophet Elijah was sent by God to condemn his apostasy. Many Jews in Jesus’ time believed that Elijah had returned as 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). Jesus also said, “I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased.” 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. Similar to Elijah’s mission and predicament, St. John was also God’s foremost herald for truth and repentance, facing up to a similar tyrant (Herod) and his illegitimate wife (Herodias) because their illicit affair set a bad example to the people.

Today is the feast day of St. Paul Miki and his 25 companion martyrs. Born to a wealthy Japanese family in 1562, he was educated by and joined the Jesuit Order in 1589. He was well known as an eloquent and successful preacher, gaining numerous converts to Catholicism. In 1597, Paul Miki and 25 other members of the Franciscan and Jesuit orders and laity were arrested and crucified by the cruel Emperor Tagcosama, who forced them to march 600 miles from Kyoto to Nagasaki, where they were all pierced to death while hanging on crosses. Their martyrdom led to the conversion of Nagasaki, which now has the highest population of Catholics in Japan.
St. John the Baptist, the prophet Elijah, and St. Paul Miki stood for the truth, while the two kings, Herod and Ahab and the cruel Japanese emperor represented what was abusive and corrupt. In any age, men of power can turn into the biggest fools. King Herod knew that John the Baptist was a holy man, and was even afraid of him. And yet 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 the lives of St. John, Elijah and St. Paul Miki 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 and Jezebels of this world. Amen.

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