PASSION of John the Baptist 29/08/23

Yesterday we celebrated Saint Augustine. One of the lines associated with him ‘Late have I loved you’ might be changed for today’s saint – John the Baptist to – ‘long have I loved you’. The stories of John and Jesus are intertwined in the Gospels – and also their fates, finishing with the Passion of both of them. After the little children around Bethlehem at the time of his birth, the Baptist is the first martyr to Christ, laying down – in the language of another John – his life in witness to the truth, not just an ideal but incarnate in Jesus the Word of God made flesh.

The readings present two very different portraits. Jeremiah – no stranger to taking a stand and suffering – sets out the stall of the man of God, telling him to ‘Stand up’ and speak what he is told by the Spirit of God, not ‘to be dismayed’, to be strong as the images of ‘a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze, a fortified city’ indicate. John the Baptist does not speak in today’s Gospel, he is the silent presence who received Herod’s protection which resulted in his execution. Caveat tutus – let the protected beware – a line that has a long history.  For all his power and pomp Herod is a weakling. It is to protect this status and not the man he gave protection to that he organizes the execution of John with the grotesque presentation of his head on a platter.

Not wanting to lose face Herod handed John over to the daughter of Herodias. Injustice doesn’t have to be dramatic and deadly as this; individuals are sacrificed in institutions to save the office of others, their outward appearance of propriety and protection of the status quo. Moral gutlessness and the Gospel do not go together; thankfully victims of such viciousness and violence can say with the Psalmist today – ‘My lips will tell of your justice’. John trusted in another, a higher, tribunal. As his death foreshadowed that of Jesus, Jesus’ resurrection foretold the vindication of John in heaven.

Received with Thanks from Fr Kevin O’Gorman SMA. 

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