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The death of John the Baptist

Gospel Reading: Mt 14:1-12
Herod the tetrarch heard of the reputation of Jesus and said to his servants, “This man is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him.” Now Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, for John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Although he wanted to kill him, he feared the people, for they regarded him as a prophet.

But at a birthday celebration for Herod, the daughter of Herodias performed a dance before the guests and delighted Herod so much that he swore to give her whatever she might ask for. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests who were present, he ordered that it be given, and he had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who took it to her mother. His disciples came and took away the corpse and buried him; and they went and told Jesus.

“Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,” Jesus declares in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:10). John was persecuted; so was Jesus; and the new Kingdom community, the Church, should be ready for persecution as well. “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you… Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5:11-12). But persecution and death are not the only themes of this passage. When Herod, hearing of Jesus, mutters that “John the Baptist… has been raised from the dead” (v 2), he is closer to the truth than he knows. God was at work in the world through John the Baptist. Though they had “killed off” John, they could not kill God. God is active in an even more powerful way in Jesus. Moreover, by his remark Herod ironically foreshadows Jesus’
resurrection, and he reveals the deepest fear of the rulers of the present age – that there is a power loose in the world that cannot be stilled by the sword. Herod’s father already learned the truth at Bethlehem (cf Mt 2:1-21), and all of the worldly powers will learn it most dramatically on Easter.

“The Lord hears the poor, and does not spurn those in bondage” (Ps 69:34).

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