August 29, 2016
by Diane Jorgensen
Creighton University School of Pharmacy
click here for photo and information about the writer

Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist
Lectionary: 431/634

1 Thessalonians 4:9-11
Psalm 98:1, 7-8, 9
Mark 6:17-29

Praying Ordinary Time

Many years ago I lived in a small town in Montana.  I had just graduated from Creighton University and found a service opportunity with Catholic sisters on a Native American reservation. The population of the town was about 500, not counting dogs and cows which were much more numerous.  This was quite an adjustment having grown up in the anonymity of a Chicago suburb. It was unnerving to meet people at the grocery store who knew what I had done that morning or where I was expected to be that afternoon. Sometimes it seemed as if they knew things about me that I hadn’t quite realized about myself yet. I wanted to be known… but I didn’t. It used to be that you had to live in a small town to be “known” in this kind of way. Now, thanks to social media, we know personal details about someone who lives halfway across the world; and we have access to everyone’s opinions and judgments about them. More than ever we struggle with our desire to be known – and loved – by others, and our desire for secrecy and privacy – lest we be judged or publicly shamed.

Herod lived in a time and place where everyone “knew his name.”  Everyone knew that he lived in immorality, having married his brother’s wife. As it turns out, while his marriage to Herodias was offensive to others, it was the secret fears and conflicting desires of his heart which led to the horror of having John beheaded.  Herod was both drawn to John the Baptist, “he knew him to be a righteous and holy man” and “he liked to listen to him;” and yet he “feared him”, and kept him in custody to please Herodias. Perhaps, like the woman at the well in her encounter with Jesus, he was fascinated with John and his capacity to speak the truth, but unlike the woman at the well, he was not willing to see the truth of his life, probe his deepest desires, nor see his internal conflicts laid bare. And so, with his conflicting thoughts and the desires of his heart kept in secret, the decision to honor his oath to “grant whatever (Herodias’s daughter) asked of him and save face with his guests somehow became the right moral choice over and above having regard for John’s life. The secrets he kept left him morally blind.

Being known by others, that is, our willingness to be vulnerable and disclose the fears and desires of our hearts, saves us from blindness and immorality.  In our “weakness and fear and trembling” is where we meet others, as Paul writes in the first reading, and exactly where God wants to meet us. By bringing them “into the light” we are freed from the fear of judgment and shame, we become more human, more whole, and more free to make decisions that are life giving for everyone.

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