John the Baptist spoke what was true and died for having spoken it. As the forerunner of Christ, he proclaimed that Truth had come into the world, the Lamb of God whose mission was to defeat sin, the devil, and eternal death.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
29 August 2017
Today we celebrate the Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist. The gospel (Mk 6:17-29) is particularly revealing of the malicious intent of Herodias, who took advantage of Herod Antipas’s offer to reward her daughter’s entertaining dance with whatever she desired. The result is that Herodias demanded the head of John the Baptist, a request her daughter passed along to Herod as her own. It is likely Herodias had brewed a great deal of hate in her heart for John the Baptist; thus she seized the opportune moment to bring about his malevolent end.
Herod initially hesitated to comply, but went ahead and ordered the execution so as not to appear weak in front of his guests. This was a particularly dangerous sin on Herod’s part because he chose to murder another man to protect his own popular image. A sure sign of an extreme narcissist.
What was the source of the loathe Herodias directed at John? Previously, John the Baptist had admonished Herod for taking his half-brother’s wife (Herodias) as his own. The problem here is that Herod’s half-brother, Philip, was still alive, which meant Herod’s attempted marriage to Herodias was no marriage at all—it was adultery. It is the teaching of Christ that marriage is a lifelong, permanent bond between a man and a woman. To divorce or separate and attempt to contract a new union with someone else prior to the death of one’s former spouse is to commit adultery (see Mk 10:11).
Giving Witness to the Truth
John the Baptist spoke what was true, and died for having spoken it. Some might think his decision was extreme, radical even. Radical? Yes, in light of today’s culture. Extreme? No. Wise is the better word; saintly the better description. Everyone has an obligation to live according to the commandments of God and a duty to speak what is true. That is something often viewed with heedless indifference (and firmly opposed) in today’s highly relativistic age, but it is nevertheless incumbent on everyone who claims to bear the name of Christ, who is Truth himself.
If we comply with the corruption of this age, living according to its evil tenets and communicating it to others through our willing adherence to its errors, we might well live more comfortably. If we “go along to get along” and thus give witness of approval to sin by silence, we might receive approbation from the powerful and attain to high status among a society gone awry, plagued by moral fragmentation. In the end, however, we will have lost everything that really matters.
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? (Mt 16:24-26)
We are to speak “not as trying to please men, but rather God, who judges our hearts” (1 Thes. 2:4).
The person of faith not only speaks what is true, he is infused by the indwelling Spirit of Truth. The person who lives by the virtue of faith is a person of truth whose life is ordered toward seeking what is true, living by what is true, and speaking what is true—all this is made possible by the gift of the Holy Spirit whose love and divine impulses elevate, ennoble and direct the Christian life so as to attain its end in God.
John the Baptist understood that truth very well. He was willing to risk—and offer up—his life for what is true and thereby gain eternal life, rather than offer his approval of evil designs, which merits its loss.
This post was updated on 29 August 2018.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel.