FRIDAY HOMILY: Remaining Faithful in a Culture of Death
Lessons from the LIfe of John the Baptist
The story of John the Baptist's beheading made for great cinema when Hollywood told the story of Christ. Usually the focal point is not his execution but the dance of Salome that led Herod Antipas to call for the prophet's demise. Even St. Mark, not known for going into great detail in his gospel, told the story with a lot of the particulars.While the ministry of St. John was cut shorter than what would have been expected, we can learn a great deal from what he did accomplish.
This account involves a Jewish king named Herod Antipas, one of his wives, Herodias, with whom he is technically not married and her daughter, Salome. Not only was Herodias the wife of Herod's brother, Philip but also the niece of another brother, Aristobulus.
The section references the impact of Jesus' ministry but is centered on the retelling of the execution of John the Baptist. Many thought that what Christ was doing came about through the resurrection of the prophet.
Herod Antipas was a wicked King. He was not much of a leader and not his father's first choice either. Herod the Great, had already chosen the two sons of his favorite wife Miriam, Aristobulus and Alexander, to be his successor. Unfortunately, due to their treachery, he had them executed.
His oldest son, Antipater II (named after Herod's grandfather) was his next choice. He, however, was accused of attempting to poison his father and later executed.
As Caesar Augustus said of Herod the Great, "It is better to be Herod's pig than his son."
Following the death of his father, Herod the Great, the kingdom was divided with a portion going to Antipas' full brother Archelaus, part to his half-brother, Herod Philip II, while he received a section, including Galilee and Perea. So none were actually Kings; they were called Tetrarchs. Archelaus, in fact, proved to be such a bad leader that he was removed after only a few years and replace under direct Roman rule.
To add to the intrigue, Antipas "married" Herodias. Not only was she the wife of his still-living brother, Herod Philip I, who was living in Rome, but also the daughter of another brother, Aristobulus, who, as you may remember, was executed by his father. This marriage was a huge scandal as well against Jewish law and the reason John the Baptist was so vocal in his criticism.
Now, John the Baptist had been arrested not long after the baptism of our Lord. It was Herod Antipas who had him arrested, since the prophet had condemned ruler to his face for marrying Herodias. As for Herodias, she wanted John dead. Her daughter, Salome, by the way, was married to the other Tetrarch - her uncle - Philip II.
Your head may be spinning by now. As you can see this makes for an amazing soap opera and our text for today involves a flashback to the actual execution of the Baptist.
The story of John's beheading made for great cinema when Hollywood told the story of Christ. Usually the focal point is not his execution but the dance of Salome that led Herod Antipas to call for the prophet's demise. Even St. Mark, not known for going into great detail in his gospel, told the story with a lot of the particulars.
As Mark tells it, Herod had a strange attraction to the message of John and listened to him gladly. He was also afraid to put the man to death since he had so many followers.
Then came his infamous birthday party where Salome danced for him and, in a euphoric state, was offered anything she wanted by the ruler. The king was remorseful for this impetuous act but, afraid of losing face in front of his guests, gave her what she wanted.
Her choice - or more accurately her mother's choice - was the Baptist's head, which she received immediately.
As one commentator put it, "Some days it just doesn't pay to be a preacher."
While the ministry of St. John the Baptist was cut shorter than what would have been expected, we can learn a great deal from what he did accomplish.
1. He told the truth
While we may never be faced with ultimate sacrifice of offering our lives up for Christ, the question remains of what we would be willing to endure. Would we risk ridicule, misunderstanding, loss of popularity or even the loss of friends simply for speaking the truth?
Today's society is filled with modern Herod's and Herodias' in all areas of moral violation. The sexual revolution during the age of modernity has not only led to hedonistic practices and perversion but quick fixes to promiscuity through contraception and abortion.
This same attitude is also found across almost all areas of our moral code for life, family, freedom, solidarity with the poor. Business practices, relationships of all kinds and the very way we view humanity are all up for grabs.
A Protestant theologian and pastor, Francis Schaeffer, forecast this attitude several decades ago, calling it a move toward "personal peace and affluence." Personal peace was not simply a matter of being at peace with others. He stated that this described a mindset where one was so eager to live without any ...
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