This material was first published by Redemptorist Publications
and is included here with their permission.
We often remember all sorts of details surrounding the moment we first heard shocking news: the assassination of President Kennedy; the accident that killed Diana Princess of Wales; aeroplanes used as weapons of mass destruction on 9th September 2001. News that is sealed in our memories for ever.
There are probably moments in our own lives too that are sealed in our memories: the sudden death of a close friend or a happy occasion like a proposal of marriage. We might remember where we were, the time of day, the day of the week, the weather and so on.
The terrible news that John the Baptist had been executed, and in what circumstances, no doubt spread rapidly around the country bringing with it shock, disbelief, grief and anger. The news was so dreadful and had such an impact that it’s still being passed on in the story we now read 2,000 years later.
What would it be like to hear the story first hand from an eye witness?
“Of course I remember it – it was a dreadful night. I’d followed John the Baptizer since he first began his preaching. He baptized me. My life was turned round but that’s another story.
“It was cruel to keep John locked up. He was a man of the air, sun, rain, winds and freedom – a man of light kept in the dark.
“All he did was tell the truth to Herod – ‘that fox’ Jesus called him. John told the truth plain and simple. Herod should not have married Herodias. I can’t remember the details but she was related in some way to Herod’s brother – married? I think so. Of course, people like that fox and his wife don’t want to hear the truth when it tells against them. She was especially vindictive and cruel. She made Herod arrest and imprison John but he allowed us to talk to John through the barred door. John never changed his message about Herod or about Jesus. He remained adamant that Jesus was the Christ and, of course, Herod didn’t like that either.
“John told us that he frequently talked with Herod. He even thought he might eventually convince Herod of the truth about Jesus.
“But it led to nothing; or rather it led to disaster. I was unseen, in the deep shadows of the building, watching that ridiculous and shameless birthday banquet for everybody who was anybody in the area. I can still smell the freshly cooked meat and hear the raucous sounds of debauchery.
“Such a contrast to John’s way of living. Here was greed, ostentation, pride, luxury, too much food and far too much wine. “Dancing girls” and girls so brazen they didn’t even dance before leaving with a least one guest.
“And there was John with his austerity, his simplicity, his depth of knowledge and insight, his dignity and integrity. I could hardly contain my fury that such a one should be subject to the whims of this monster Herod.
“Then the horror, the moment when my world changed again:
“I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptizer on a platter”
“I remember the silence, the thunderous, impossible silence and the moment when everyone turned to stone. I go back to that moment so often, if only Herod had been shocked into refusing that request. But he wasn’t – he did what she asked. No charge, no trial, no sentence, no appeal, no time to prepare. None of us could get to John’s cell quickly enough at least to say goodbye.
“I witnessed the same travesty of justice when Jesus was arrested and executed. John seemed to be his forerunner in death as well as in life.
“We took John’s body after his execution and buried him. It was all we could do for him. We did the same for Jesus when his time came.
“What do I do now? I tell my story whenever I can. I speak of John, who set me on the right path when I’d gone wrong: his integrity and courage. I speak of Jesus, who came after. A man in whom we saw God’s glory, grace and truth.
“What do I know? That I’d rather be poor, hungry and oppressed but know the light and love of those two men than go to one of Herod’s banquets every day wearing finery and flaunting riches and jewellery.
“What should you do? Think about my story; find out more about Jesus – you never know, you might meet him when you least expect it – perhaps you already have!”
- John the Baptist was not afraid to speak truth to power even when to do so led to his arrest and imprisonment.
- By speaking the truth John was hated and feared by Herod Antipas and his wife, Herodias who wanted John dead.
- Herod promised the daughter of Herodias whatever reward she wished for after her dancing had delighted his guests.
- Herodias took advantage of the situation to request John’s head and Herod could not go back on his promise made in front of his guests.
- The arrest, imprisonment and death of John the Baptist points to the passion of Jesus just as his preaching once pointed to the revelation of Jesus as the Christ.
Let us join together in praying to God for the needs the church, the world, our communities and ourselves, trusting in his love which reaches out from before the foundation of the world.
We pray for God’s church, especially for the people he has called to be prophets and teachers in our generation. We pray that they will be strengthened and protected by the Holy Spirit.
We pray for the leaders of the world carrying responsibilities for the lives of their people. We pray for all victims of the world’s injustices and for a new spirit of righteousness and integrity in the hearts of the powerful.
We pray for the people of our parish especially for those who feel excluded, exploited or ignored. We pray that as God’s people we may work to build a community as open and generous as God’s love shown to us in Christ Jesus.
We pray that God will bring healing in mind, body and spirit to all who are troubled. We pray that in lives darkened by any kind of pain, distress or grief the light of Christ will bring comfort, hope and a sense of God’s all encompassing love.
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, hear these prayers we offer you in his name. By the power of your Holy Spirit work within us and among us to bring your kingdom values into this world. Let your will be done so that all people may live only for your praise and glory. Amen.