Scripture: Lectionary 406. Leviticus 25:1.8-17. Psalm 67:2-3.5.7-8.
Word and Event often characterized the writing of the Evangelists. We now
are in transition from the words of Jesus in parables and teachings. Now
we have a flashback to the precursor’s witness (martyrdom) to the Messiah
Jesus. It involves the historical facts behind Herod Antipas and we begin
our Gospel reading today with the sad scene of the beheading of John the
Baptist. This was a birthday feast for Herod but it soon turns into a
terrible execution of one whom the people admired and whom Herod was fond
of. He made wrong choices that were meant to please all those who came to
his birthday party–his courtiers, friends, and then the presence of his
wife’s daughter who danced before them and pleased their lusts after her.
Herodias asks that her husband give her the head of John the Baptist on a
platter. Out of his own desire to please others even when it involves a
sinful decision to hurt someone, Herod orders what his unlawful wife wants.
His own lusts must have been part of this decision. Thus circumstances
created his choice to murder someone whom he respected. We also learn he
was curious to see and hear Jesus whom he thought was John the Baptist
risen from the dead! Bad decisions blur one’s vision for good. Added to
his shame-faced human respect, his desires to please his audience, are his
lust and his false swearing of an oath. The ultimate and criminal decision
had all of these mixed in with his choice. This was not the first nor the
last time he would make bad choices.
On the otherhand Matthew tells us the love and reverence John the Baptist’s
disciples have for their master. They find his body and bury it. They knew
from the Messiah that there was no one greater than John the Baptist in the
perspective of Jesus’ view of the kingdom of God. John himself probably
allowed most of his disciples to become those of Jesus. He understood his
role as precursor, herald, and witness to the Christ. He pointed out that
this one is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He
deemed himself unworthy even to tighten the Christ’s sandals.
Our first reading helps us to mourn John the Baptist since it mentions the
great Day of Atonement. It is a day when sin is honestly faced and
admitted in one’s life and forgiveness is asked for from God. Fasting is
done throughout the day. Today we are motivated to ask pardon for our sins
(bad decisions and choices). We do not stop there but see in the mention
in Leviticus of the year of jubilee our joy at being restored to friendship
with God knowing that we are always forgiven when we atone our sins. Amen.