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The death of John the Baptist

Gospel Reading: Mk 6:17-29
Herod was the one who had John the Baptist arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married. John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

Herodias harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so. Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him. She had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday, gave a banquet for his courtiers, his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee. Herodias’s own daughter came in and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.”

He even swore many things to her, “I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the Baptist.” The girl hurried back to the king’s presence and made her request, “I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist.”

The king was deeply distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her. So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head. He went off and beheaded him in the prison.

He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl. The girl in turn gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

John the Baptist, being the precursor of Jesus, prefigures his death (cf Mk 9:11-13). The story has been colored by reminiscences of Old Testament precedents. One can think of Jezebel, who sought Elijah’s death (cf 1 Kgs 19:2), for the Baptist is seen as an Elijah figure. Then, the influence of the Book of Esther is undoubted. As the story relates, the imprisonment of John is not enough for Herodias; like Jezebel who engineered the death of Naboth (cf 1 Kgs 21), she plotted his death. Herod fears, or stands in awe of, John—just as the disciples (cf 4:41; 9:32; 10:32), the people (cf 5:15), and the healed woman (cf 5:33) stand in awe of Jesus. “A righteous and holy man”—in Acts 3:14 Jesus is “the Holy and Righteous One.” There is a deliberate intent to compare John and Jesus. Antipas’ attitude to John is remarkably like that of Ahab to Elijah (cf 1 Kgs 21:17-29); it is Jezebel, not Ahab, who plots Elijah’s death (cf 1 Kgs 19:1-2). Antipas seizes the opportunity of meeting his prisoner and hears him with mixed feelings. He likes “to listen to him” (v 20), the same reaction of the crowd to Jesus (cf 12:37).

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SOURCE: “366 Days with the Lord,” ST PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 895-9701; Fax 895-7328; E-mail: publishing@stpauls.ph; Website: http://www.stpauls.ph.