At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the reputation of Jesus and said to his servants, “This man is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him.”
Now Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, for John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Although he wanted to kill him, he feared the people, for they regarded him as a prophet. But at a birthday celebration for Herod, the daughter of Herodias performed a dance before the guests and delighted Herod so much that he swore to give her whatever she might ask for. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests who were present, he ordered that it be given, and he had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who took it to her mother. His disciples came and took away the corpse and buried him; and they went and told Jesus.Matthew 14:1-12
Often Mark’s Gospel offers little clues to help us interpret one passage in the light of another. For example, Jesus is sharply questioned by the Pharisees whether it’s lawful for a husband to divorce his wife. The questioning takes place as Jesus “came into the district of Judea and across the Jordan,” on his way up to Jerusalem where he will meet his death.
Mark’s not altogether accurate in his geography but “Judea across the Jordan” was where John the Baptist was put to death for questioning the validity of Herod’s marriage to Herodias, who divorced Herod’s brother Philip to marry him. Mark tells that gruesome story a few chapters before in great detail. (Mark 6, 14-29) The site of John’s death, east of the Dead Sea in what is now the country of Jordan, was lost for more than a thousand years after it was destroyed by the Romans at the end of the First Jewish Revolt in 71/72 A.D. It was definitively identified in 1968, when a German scholar discovered the remains of a Roman siege wall. Since then, the Hungarian architect and archaeologist Dr Győző Vörös has been excavating the site.
Perhaps the Pharisees thought that questioning Jesus here might have two outcomes. Either it might incite Herodias and Herod to do to Jesus what they did to John, or if Jesus didn’t answer the delicate question about divorce, the crowds gathered around him might see him less brave than the Baptist.
Jesus’ answer is brave, and it’s not an abstract one. Marriage is not to satisfy human ambition, like Herodias’ ambition. From the beginning God willed that man and woman be one flesh. The final lines of our gospel, spoken at this time and place, is also a strong judgment on the man and woman who engineered John’s death:
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was greatly perplexed because some were saying, “John has been raised from the dead”; others were saying, “Elijah has appeared”; still others, “One of the ancient prophets has arisen.” But Herod said, “John I beheaded. Who then is this about whom I hear such things?” And he kept trying to see him.Luke 9:7-9
30th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)
Some Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Go away, leave this area because Herod wants to kill you” (Luke 13:31).
From the bare text alone, it is difficult to determine the true motive of this warning from “some Pharisees.” Interpretations range from friendly and good-willed to guileful and hostile.1 The latter seems more likely since they approach Jesus as a group. In the exceptional cases of Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, and Nicodemus, a Pharisee, Jesus is approached alone and even at night for fear of their peers (Matthew 27:57; Mark 15:43; John 19:38; John 3:2). It took a lot of courage to stand alone against majority opinion.
Prophets have had to escape violent rulers for good reasons. David hid from Saul (I Samuel 19:1-17) and Elijah fled from Jezebel’s vengeful wrath (I Kings 19:1-4). But Jesus marched onward in the face of Herod’s threats.
He replied, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and I perform healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I accomplish my purpose. Yet I must continue on my way today, tomorrow, and the following day, for it is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem’ (Luke 13:32-33).
The crafty, fox-like Herod (alópéx) had no power over Jesus whose only goal was to do the Father’s will. Jesus sought no overthrow of earthly kingdoms, but prepared hearts for the kingdom of heaven. His kingship was not of this world, his army consisted of “lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3), and his greatest weapon was love even unto death on the Cross.
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,” Jesus had prophesied (John 2:19). Destruction and construction must take place in the holy city Jerusalem, the center of temple worship and culture.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling! (Luke 13:34)
Jerusalem is an address to the entire people of Israel, as in Jeremiah’s lament: “To what can I compare you—to what can I liken you—O daughter Jerusalem?” (Lamentations 2:13) Jesus compared himself to a mother hen who shelters her children under her wings. Against all evolutionary instinct, the divine hen does not run away from the ravenous fox. “Survival of the fittest” is transcended by kenotic suffering, death, and resurrection.
Behold, your house will be abandoned. But I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35).
“A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later and you will see me,” Jesus said to his disciples at the Last Supper (John 16:16), echoing these final words to the Pharisees. The fox will kill the hen, leaving the chicks abandoned for “a little while,” but for all who repent in the name of Jesus Christ and return to the Father, “your grief will become joy… your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you” (John 6:16-22).
St. Cyril of Alexandria reads the greeting, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” as a prediction of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem before his crucifixion (Matthew 21:9). St. Augustine, Theophylact, and Bede interpret the saying, originally from Psalm 118:26, as referring to Jesus’ post-resurrection glory.2
From the divine perspective, the house of Israel and Jerusalem is universalized to include the whole human race. So long as God continues to be stoned and killed in the hearts of human persons, spiritual desolation ensues. The “time” to welcome the Lord into our hearts is today (Hebrews 3:15).
1 Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J. conjectures that these Pharisees “are depicted giving Jesus sage advice; these at least are well disposed toward him.” He finds support in other modern commentators: “Indeed, J. B. Tyson (‘Jesus and Herod Antipas,’ 245) plausibly argues for the historicity of this incident from the fact that Pharisees appear here not as antagonists of Jesus but as friends.” See The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1985, p. 1030.
William Barclay writes: “There may have been six bad Pharisees for every good one but this passage shows that even amongst the Pharisees there were those who admired and respected Jesus” (Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 13:31-35).
On the other hand, the majority of classic Protestant commentaries of the last three centuries hold that these Pharisees had hypocritical and malicious intentions, and were possibly in league with Herod and Herodias in delivering the warning. These commentaries are all in the public domain:
Charles John Ellicott, Joseph Benson, Albert Barnes, Matthew Poole, John Gill, Heinrich Meyer, W. Robertson Nicoll (The Expositor’s Greek New Testament), F. W. Farrar (Gospel of Luke, Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges), John Albert Bengel (Bengel’s Gnomon of the New Testament), Joseph Exell (The Pulpit Commentary).
Patristic commentary is sparse on this verse, but St. Cyril of Alexandria finds these Pharisees ill-disposed toward Jesus: “Likely to lose their office of leaders of the people and already fallen and expelled from their authority over them and deprived of their profits—for they were fond of wealth, and covetous, and given to lucre—they made pretense of loving him, and even drew near, and said, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you’” (Commentary on Luke, Homily 100).
2 From St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea, Luke 13:35:
AUGUSTINE. (de Cons. Ev. ubi sup.) But as Luke does not say to what place our Lord went from thence, so that He should not come except at that time, (for when this was spoken He was journeying onward until He should come to Jerusalem), He means therefore to refer to that coming of His, when He should appear in glory.
THEOPHYLACT. For then also will they unwillingly confess Him to be their Lord and Saviour, when there shall be no departure hence. But in saying, Ye shall not see me until he shall come, &c. does not signify that present hour, but the time of His cross; as if He says, When ye have crucified Me, ye shall no more see Me until I come again.
BEDE. Ye shall not see, that is, unless ye have worked repentance, and confessed Me to be the Son of the Father Almighty, ye shall not see My face at the second coming.
Mark 6:17-29 (Memorial of St. John the Baptist)
“Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him” (Mark 6:20).
“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is single, your whole body will be full of light” (Matthew 6:22).
Herod was attracted to the light; he enjoyed listening to John. The prophet’s simplicity, the tetrarch’s perfect foil, awakened his original nature. But darkness had an even stronger pull on the diploid potentate, whose inner compass swung between north and south, attraction and repulsion.
Body, soul, spirit, mind, heart and passions were all out of sync in Herod. The beguiling voice of Herodias, the drunken dance, and his “honor” before his guests snuffed out the glowing embers of John’s words.
Herod the Great, his ancestor, massacred thousands of infant sons on account of the birthday of an infant king. Herod Antipas beheaded the Forerunner of the Son of God on his own birthday.
The birth of one triggered the death of others. Existence and non-existence supplant each other cyclically in a bipolar cosmos torn by envy and rivalry.
As the guests toasted the life of one, they dismembered the life of another. Did Herod see the irony of his birthday (deathday) party?
The Herodian bloodbath reached its pinnacle in the crucifixion of John’s cousin and Lord, whose resurrection to eternal life finally transcended the futility of the “dog-eat-dog” cycle.
12th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)
Jesus’ fame as a healer spread far and wide in Palestine, attracting not only lepers but foreigners like the Roman centurion. Jews did not associate with either group; one was “unclean,” the other was “Gentile.” Both were sources of defilement.
Jesus tore down walls of division by his compassion towards all people regardless of race, gender, physical and psychological condition, or social status. He must have felt an affinity for the centurion who showed such an unusual compassion for his servant, for under Roman law slaves were classified with tools and chattel. An infirm slave was considered disposable. As the noble centurion reached across social boundaries to help his fellow man, Jesus transcended racial boundaries and offered to go to his Gentile home—a transgression of Jewish law— and heal his servant.
The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
The centurion’s declaration of faith astounded Jesus. The Roman did not know Christ as the Son of God, but ascribed divine power and authority to him, intuiting by his spirit that Jesus could heal at a distance.
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven, but the children of the Kingdom will be driven out into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.” And at that very hour his servant was healed.
The racially exclusive court of heaven suddenly widened to include Gentiles in Jesus’ vision of the eternal Kingdom. The presumed heirs may find themselves disinherited, Jesus warned. Heaven is not a national birthright, but the universal communion of the faithful.
After the leper and the centurion, Jesus returned to Peter’s house where he was staying and healed a third person of marginalized status in Israel—a woman. Peter’s mother-in-law immediately began to serve him as soon as she was healed of her fever.
Jesus’ love knew no bounds as he healed every disease and infirmity. God had truly come in the flesh to reveal the secret of heaven: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves” (John 14:11).
As wonderful as miracles are, Jesus wanted above all to lead his people to faith in his Father: “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will not believe,” Jesus admonished (John 4:48). He stood immovably silent in the presence of the sensation-seeking Herod (Luke 23:8-9).
The healing of body, soul and spirit in this world is a sign of the world to come when all divisions in the Body of Christ will be healed and brought to union and communion in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—the miracle of miracles.
“Who do you say I am?” is the question Jesus asks his disciples at Caesaria Philippi. It’s a question at the center of Matthew’s Gospel, which we read today in our liturgy. Before this, Jesus has taught and done marvelous things in Galilee, mostly around the Sea of Galilee. Now he’s going up to Jerusalem. “Who do your say I am?”
He asks the question at Caesaria Philippi, a place we don’t know much about, because the city fell into ruins after Jesus’ death and resurrection, but it’s a place that has an important role in our gospel story.
Caesaria Philippi was located about 40 miles from the lake area where most of Jesus’ ministry took place. It was a gentile city, devout Jews tended not to go there, so we might ask why Jesus took his disciples there to ask this important question.
Caesaria Philippi was located right at the base of Mount Hermon, the great mountain that was the origin of most of the water that flowed into the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. It was a large Greco-Roman city built in Jesus’ time as part of a big economic boom going on in Galilee. Under the Herods, especially Herod Antipas, a number of large cities like Tiberias, Sepphoris and Caesaria Philippi were built in Galilee to handle the developing trade in agriculture and fish from the Sea of Galilee. The Herod’s wanted this area to be a supplier of food for the Roman Empire.
Some scholars think that Joseph moved his family to Galilee from Judea to get work in this new economy. Sepphoris, one of its booming cities, was only four miles from Nazareth.
“Who do people say I am?” Jesus’ disciples answer his question in typical Jewish terms. “Some say you are Elijah, John the Baptist, or Jeremiah, or one of prophets.”
In sight of Caesaria Philippi, Jesus’ question might also be posed: “Who do these people say I am?” The unspoken answer might be “Nobody.”
Would that be the answer we would give if we were asked what any of our great cities think of Jesus Christ today? “They think he’s nobody.”
“And you, who do you say I am?”
“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
For awhile, I’ve been studying a television preacher on one of the cable stations we get– Doctor Harold Camping, who is predicting the end of the world on May 21, 2011. He’s found this news in the Bible, he says, and tries to prove it through fast and far-fetched calculations. He’s against churches and their services and their sacraments, like baptism. The age of the churches is over, according to him, just believe in the bible, it’s all there.
Questioners call in and he ends the session thanking them for sharing, but there’s not much sharing going on. It’s Dr. Camping’s monologue.
He’s not interested in recent biblical scholarship either. His main point is to get ready for May 21th by living a good life, otherwise you’re going to be burned to a crisp.
Today’s the feast of St. Joseph and I’m sure Dr. Camping isn’t interested in saints either. In fact, when he talks about the bible, he pays little attention at all to the people in it. The bible is just for us, waiting for the world to end.
But a world of witnesses produced this book, and Joseph was among them. He’s a guide, not only to the bible but the faith it represents. He’s a “son of David,” whom God calls from the small village of Nazareth to play an intimate part in the birth and life of Jesus.
In fact, in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, Joseph is more prominent than Mary. He provides Jesus with a genealogy going back to Abraham. He is told by the angel not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife; he shouldn’t divorce her as Jewish law called for, and he should name the child, Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.”
After the visit of the Magi, he’s told to take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Then, the angel tells Joseph to return to Israel after Herod’s death. Finally, he makes his home in Nazareth in Galilee, where his family would be safer away from Herod’s heir, Archelaus, who ruled in Judea.
Clearly, according to Matthew’s gospel, Joseph has a major role in the birth and early life of Jesus Christ. Is that role over?
“Whenever the divine favor chooses someone to receive a special grace, or to accept a lofty vocation, God adorns the person chosen with all the gifts of the Spirit needed to fulfill the task at hand,” says St. Bernardine of Siena in the readings for today’s feast.
“This general rule is especially verified in the case of Saint Joseph, the foster-father of our Lord and the husband of the Queen of our world, enthroned above the angels. He was chosen by the eternal Father as the trustworthy guardian and protector of his greatest treasures, namely, his divine Son and Mary, Joseph’s wife. He carried out this vocation with complete fidelity until at last God called him, saying: ‘Good and faithful servant enter into the joy of your Lord.’”
St. Bernardine goes on to say that the church today honors Joseph as the fulfillment of the “ noble line of patriarchs and prophets” of the Old Testament. Christ honors him in heaven as he did on earth.
“Remember us, Saint Joseph, and plead for us to your foster-child. Ask your most holy bride, the Virgin Mary, to look kindly upon us, since she is the mother of him who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns eternally.”
Joseph was blessed with a wonderful interior faith. I don’t think he was too interested in calculating the end of the world.