Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist | August 29, 2020

Today the church together recalls the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist in prison – executed by King Herod. Some have read the story leading up to John’s death in today’s Gospel and sought to place blame on Herodius or her daughter, conspiring to box the king into the corner.

But the real reason for Herod’s horrific act is rather found in this line in the Gospel:

“Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody.”

He feared John. Why does this mighty king fear this fellow from the desert wilderness who has no money and no political power? “Because he is righteous and holy.”

This is one of the strongest points in the entire Bible – those who stand for justice and for true holiness of life are feared by those in authority with the most to lose in terms of personal power and influence.

Think of how many great prophets, like John the Baptist have been mistreated, threatened and even killed because of the fear of the righteous witness they bring:

– Think of the other biblical prophets, and of Jesus himself.
– Think of Dr. Martin Luther King or Sr. Thea Bowman, who challenged racism and white privilege in the world and in the churches.
– Recall St. Oscar Romero or the Jesuits at Central American University, murdered for their care of the poor.

Maybe we can think of others in our very own time – this moment in history – that speak truth to power and are mocked or threatened by supposed authorities!

The witness of John the Baptist lives in them; as does the Holy Spirit of God. They are the ones who are compassionate to those most in need and sharp in the criticism of authorities who seemingly can’t be bothered to love. They are a “cloud of witnesses” we call upon – along with St. John the Baptist – to live lives of righteousness and holiness.

In the midst of the many challenges our nation and world face during this pandemic and in the coming months, St. Paul’s message from today’s first reading calls out to us:

God chooses those we don’t think about to be sources of wisdom. God chooses people who we overlook  to do what is right.  God isn’t on “both sides” – God is on the side of right and of justice and reduces to nothing those who think they’re the greatest – even frightened puppet kings like Herod. Because, genuine Christians know that only God is great.

We know this to be true – St. Paul says – because we’ve seen it in Christ – who is God’s wisdom in the flesh. And it is found in the message of the slain Baptist whose proclamation about Christ rings through the ages in confidence. Through his martyr’s death, John shares in Christ’s final victory over death – a victory he already shared in his life lived in response to God’s call.

Let us pray for the eyes to see God’s wisdom at work and for the courage to be righteous and holy people of God.

God give you peace!