Saturday, August 29, 2009

He Must Increase, and I Must Decrease (John the Baptist)

First Reading
Jeremiah 1:17-19

The word of the Lord came to me thus:
Gird your loins! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be crushed on their account, as though I would allow you to be crushed before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you," declares the LORD.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 71)
R/ I will sing your salvation.
In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness;
turn your ear to me and save me.
Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go;
for you are my rock and my fortress.
Deliver me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked.

For you have been my hope, O LORD,
my confidence since my youth.
From birth I have relied on you;
from my mother’s womb, you have been my strength.

My mouth is filled with your praise,
declaring your splendor all the day long.
O God, you have taught me since my youth,
and to this very day I proclaim your marvelous deeds.

Mark 6:17-29

Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he became quite perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him.

Finally Herodia's opportunity arose. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When Salome, the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, "Ask me for anything you want, and I'll give it to you." He promised her with an oath, "Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom."

She went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask for?"
"The head of John the Baptist," she answered.

At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: "I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter."

The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John's disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

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John, the son of Zachary and Elizabeth, a relative of Mary of Nazareth and her Son, Jesus, was a hermit, who was more at home in the desert than in the towns and villages where most of his kinfolk lived. God has granted him holiness even before his birth, and had gifted him with the power to convert sinners. With these gifts he attracted many of the Jews to the banks of the Jordan where he brought them an even greater blessing: a baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, bore the title Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. His gifts were those of sovereignty and political power. He was responsible for great building projects, in particular his capital, the city of Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, named for his patron, the emperor Tiberius Caesar. Unfortunately, Antipas abused his gifts, using his power to become an adulterer and a murderer.

Salome, the daughter of Herod’s brother Philip, had a gift for dancing. Her gift enabled her to bring beauty and pleasure to her audiences, which often included the King and his guests. Her talent brought her great rewards; the King would promise her anything, even half his realm.

Herodias, the spouse of Herod’s brother Philip, and mother of Salome, was gifted with charm and passion. She was able to mesmerize her husband, her daughter, and the King, who made her his mistress. Her gifts enabled her to manipulate all of them for her own evil purposes.

Now that we have been introduced to the players in this melodrama, let us move on to the plot.

John the Baptist was the voice of Herod’s conscience. Each of us has an interior conscience, a gift from God which points out both the paths that will lead us forward on our way to God, and those that will lead us off in other directions. If we do not pay attention to our interior conscience, God will bring others into our lives who will serve as a substitute for the inner voice. Herod was not only a weak man, but a cruel one. Rather than face his own perversity and repent of it, he instead killed the prophet who pointed it out to him.

Bad conscience is always sending us messages from the past, incidents of wrongdoing that refuse to disappear. Jesus of Nazareth and John the Baptist were kinsmen, and there are traditions that suggest that they resembled one another. Later, when the Nazarene carpenter and preacher stood before Antipas, he got the feeling that this was John returned from the dead. There was still a hint of good conscience within him, but he again ignored it, and once again played a significant role in the drama of the Redemption. But that is an element of another drama in this series of tragedies that lead inevitably to happy endings – if we learn to follow the Author’s directions.

In the meantime, let’s return to the topic of gifts: How has God gifted you? Stop to reflect on and to count the gifts God has granted to you. If you want to grow spiritually, ask your guardian angel and your patron saints – who are themselves, gifts of God to you – to assist you in developing God’s gifts to the full. Eventually, if not sooner, you will begin to notice how they bring greater fulfillment to your life, and increased glory to God.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Wow, I wonder if this is where we get the advice, "Don't kill the messenger." (Or probably it was from some battle or king's practice eons ago.)

Thanks for asking us to think about how we should develop our gifts. We sometimes (maybe often) take them from granted -- at least, I do.