Daily Reflection
August 29th, 2005

Eileen Burke-Sullivan

Theology Department
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Memorial of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Psalm 96:1 and 3, 4-5, 11-12, 13
Mark 6:17-29

At first glance John the Baptist is not a very likeable person. If you know a person like John in your own community, chances are you don’t like him/her very much. Assertive, uncompromising, demanding, certain, not very concerned about the niceties of attire or hygiene. Definitely neither politically correct or politically astute, it is unlikely that John the Baptist could be elected to anything in American governance. He wasn’t, in fact, elected to any leadership position in the First Century. To the believer it is clear that God appointed him prophet and spokesperson; and to the unbeliever he would come across as a negative, self-appointed critic and judge of the world.

Yes . . . but . . .

Yes, but powerful figures listened to him and were afraid of him. Herod couldn’t stay away from his jail cell, even when John publicly condemned Herod’s sexual behavior and his familial relationships both of which just happened to be destructive to Israel’s vocation as a communal representation of Yahweh’s way of doing things. Herod was moved by John - he was a little confused by John’s love for Yahweh and Yahweh’s plans, but the Gospel tells us he “liked to listen to him.” John offered him some inner consolation or hope of salvation perhaps? John called him out of his darkness? He might have actually wanted to know the truth, perhaps? We don’t know, but we do know from the story that Herod’s licentiousness, his lust for pleasure was so overwhelming that he abandoned his ability to reason or to care about the meaning of anything important.

Herod stands for so many people who have power – perhaps legitimate power – and cannot use it for good (even for themselves) because they are so controlled by various habits or patterns of pleasure or power. History is strewn with the stories of monarchs who cannot rule well for others because they cannot rule themselves. But it is not monarchs alone who suffer such blighting in their lives.
Ordinarily “good” men and women ruin their lives by giving away their legitimate self control to appetites for drugs, alcohol, sex, TV, guns, food, or perhaps the control of other people’s lives. Yves Congar wrote a number of years ago that the three powers of Christification that are given to us in Baptism are the priestly power, the prophetic power and the kingly power. For many of us the right use of the kingly power is NOT controlling other’s lives, but rightly ordering our own life; patterning it in virtue – the mean between the extremes that surround and beckon to us.

The first reading from today’s memorial liturgy reminds us that for those who hear God’s voice, death has no power. God will raise up those who hear (and speak) the truth and those who overcome the imperious demands of out-of-control pleasure or power.

In this late summer season when the light of the world begins to fade and the earth turns to autumn the Church calls us to go to the dungeon of our own hearts and listen to the voice of God’s prophet imprisoned there before the demands of our vices stifle it forever.

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