August 29th recalls the the death of John the Baptist. Mark’s gospel tells the gruesome story. King Herod ordered his death, prompted by Herodias. (Mark 6, 17-19) Because his death is like the Passion of Jesus the church calls it “The Passion of John the Baptist”.
Human sinfulness is on display in this banquet at court, which the artist (above) describes very well. The women smugly presenting John’s head. The man pointing his finger at Herod and Herod denying it all. John’ eyes are still open, his mouth still speaks.
Venerable Bede says that John’s death is like Jesus’ death because they both embraced the same values. If John stayed silent about Herod’s conduct, he may have gained a few peaceful years of life, but he was more concerned with what God thought than what powerful people on earth thought.
“His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: I am the truth?
“He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men; he was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life.
“But heaven notices– not the span of our lives, but how we live them, speaking the truth.” (Bede, Homily)
Wonderful line: It doesn’t matter how many years we live, but how we live them, “speaking the truth.”
For John that meant dying for the truth. What does it mean for us? It may not mean getting our heads chopped off, but we should expect some scars from the daily battle for God’s truth. ” May we fight hard for the confession of what you teach.” (Opening prayer)