The Precursor in Power and Wisdom, Beheading of St. John the Baptist, August 29, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary, Summit, NJ
Memorial of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist
Friday of the 21st Week in Ordinary Time, Year II (First Reading)
August 29, 2014
1 Cor 1:17-25, Ps 33, Mk 6:17-29

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today we celebrate the final way by which St. John the Baptist made straight the paths of the Lord. He had been his precursor in birth, making a joy-filled in utero proclamation of his presence. He was his forerunner in preaching the message of conversion. He was his predecessor in the work of baptizing. And today we mark how he was his precursor in imprisonment, death and in a vague sense his resurrection, with Herod saying of Jesus the very words that the angels at the tomb would say, “He has been raised from the dead,” applying them to John the Baptist redivivus. 
  • Tertullian said that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of future Christians, and the blood of this protomartyr was what prepared the way for Christ’s own martyrdom and the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the apostles, and so many others after Christ. Christ himself made that link after the Transfiguration, when Peter, James and John asked him about whether Elijah whom they had just seen speaking to Jesus would precede Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus replied, “I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands” (Mt 17:12).
  • So we need to look at John the Baptist’s martyrdom in a Christological key. On the one hand John’s beheading seems like a sickening tragedy. But it contains within a power and a wisdom, as St. Paul would write in today’s first reading talking about Christ crucified. The martyrdom of the Friend of the Bridegroom because he pointed out the truth about Herod and Herodias’ putative marriage was a culmination of how John was trying to prepare even Herod and Herodias to marry the true Bridegroom through calling them to conversion. What he suffered was a foretelling of what Jesus himself would do out of love for the Bride.
  • John had reminded Herod Antipas that it was not lawful for him to marry his brother Philip’s wife. The book of Leviticus had said clearly, “You shall not have intercourse with your brother’s wife, for that would be a disgrace to your brother” (Lev 18:16). Herod had gone to Rome to visit his brother and while there seduced his sister-in-law, persuaded her to leave his brother, divorced his own wife and married her. To make the incestuous matters worse, Herodias was Philip’s and Herod’s niece as well. For all these reasons it was not right for Herod to have Herodias as his wife. With a string of violent verbs, the evangelist tells us that Herod had John arrested, bound, and imprisoned. He wanted to kill him, St. Matthew tells us, but he feared the people. But eventually he would kill him when his vindictive bride pimped her princess daughter to do a striptease before her step-father and uncle and all his drunken courtiers to seduce him into vowing to give her anything she wanted. And when she asked for John the Baptist’s head on a platter, Herod gave the command. And to the Aramaic tune of Happy Birthday to You, the soldiers brought in, instead of birthday cake, the Baptist’s severed head and presented it to this lustful, power-hungry, self-important little assassin. But while that day was a tragedy for Herod and all those participating in his Satanic liturgy where lust ruled instead of sacrificial love, where immoral oaths dominated over the truth, it was a triumph for John the Baptist, in essence, his spiritual birthday in which he was born into eternity and we believe leaped for joy again
  • What John the Baptist suffered on account of his mission as Friend of the Bridegroom, as a witness to the truth, what Christ’s power and wisdom shows, leads us to a question Pope Francis asked two weeks ago in Korea: what are we willing to die for? What are we willing to suffer for? Do we believe that these sufferings for and in union with Christ, although they’re foolish and scandalous to the world, are the source of our spiritual wisdom and power?
  • The Mass, in which John the Baptist’s words echo until the end of time indicating to us the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, is where we enter into communion with Christ and through, with and in him, with the power and glory of the Cross. We’ll be hearing much more about this on Sunday as Jesus predicts his Passion and our own through our following him down the path of self-denial, assumption of the Cross and following. It’s in the Mass that we will do what St. Paul tells us on Sunday, to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, our spiritual worship. This is where we become martyrs, witnesses, to Christ. This is where he decrease so that he may increase. This is where we’re strengthened to go out in love for the Bridegroom.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
1 COR 1:17-25

Brothers and sisters:
Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel,
and not with the wisdom of human eloquence,
so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
For it is written:

I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the learning of the learned I will set aside.
Where is the wise one?
Where is the scribe?
Where is the debater of this age?
Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish?
For since in the wisdom of God
the world did not come to know God through wisdom,
it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation
to save those who have faith.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
but we proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 33:1-2, 4-5, 10-11

R. (5) The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
Exult, you just, in the LORD;
praise from the upright is fitting.
Give thanks to the LORD on the harp;
with the ten stringed lyre chant his praises.
R. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
For upright is the word of the LORD,
and all his works are trustworthy.
He loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the LORD the earth is full.
R. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
The LORD brings to nought the plans of nations;
he foils the designs of peoples.
But the plan of the LORD stands forever;
the design of his heart, through all generations.
R. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.

MK 6:17-29

Herod was the one who had John the Baptist arrested and bound in prison
on account of Herodias,
the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married.
John had said to Herod,
“It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”
Herodias harbored a grudge against him
and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so.
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.
She had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday,
gave a banquet for his courtiers,
his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee.
Herodias’ own daughter came in
and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests.
The king said to the girl,
“Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.”
He even swore many things to her,
“I will grant you whatever you ask of me,
even to half of my kingdom.”
She went out and said to her mother,
“What shall I ask for?”
She replied, “The head of John the Baptist.”
The girl hurried back to the king’s presence and made her request,
“I want you to give me at once
on a platter the head of John the Baptist.”
The king was deeply distressed,
but because of his oaths and the guests
he did not wish to break his word to her.
So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders
to bring back his head.
He went off and beheaded him in the prison.
He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl.
The girl in turn gave it to her mother.
When his disciples heard about it,
they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.