Listening to the Prophets
Updated: May 13, 2019
Today’s Gospel I find particularly interesting because it relegates Jesus, the center of our faith and one of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, as almost a secondary character.
Instead, we see the troubled story of John the Baptist, King Herod, Herodias, and Herodias’ mother.
This story in today’s Gospel comes right on the heels of last week’s Gospel where Jesus sends his disciples to proclaim repentance to the people of God while also casting out demons, anointing with oil, and curing the sick (Mark 6: 12-13).
Last week, Jesus told his disciples that they may fail and that they will come across trials and tribulations.
Today, we gather a glimpse of what Jesus meant.
We are asked to hold the faith of John the Baptist, enduring all things to the end. But we are also called to recognize when we have failed, we are always offered an opportunity to repent.
In the Gospel of Mark, the Gospeller begins spending the first seven or so verses talking mostly about John the Baptist. If you recall, at the beginning of the Gospel, John is in the wilderness “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4).
In preaching repentance and preparing others for the kingdom of God, John the Baptist apparently at one time criticized the ruler, King Herod, for marrying his brother’s wife.
Although it’s not stated in scripture, John must have known the stories of King Herod’s father, who, according to tradition, murdered countless children in Bethlehem at the time Jesus was born. John must have known the Herod family was not one to mess with. And yet, disregarding his own future and well-being, John did what he believed he had to do which was to preach repentance and for the forgiveness of sins.
Despite the dangers he faced, he the work he believed God was calling him to do.
This Gospel today tells us that we too, if we wish to follow our Lord, must also be prepared to suffer for His sake.
John, in criticizing his rulers, sealed his fate and eventually won the prize of martyrdom. Today, John the Baptist is regarded next to Jesus and His Blessed Mother, as the most revered of all the saints.
One thing I never caught as a kid was the following about today’s Gospel.
Just as today, as at the time of King Herod, John was revered for his knowledge and preaching. The Gospel writer specifically mentions that despite arresting John, Herod still feared him, “knowing that [John] was a righteous and holy man” (Mark 6:20).
Although Herod may have considered John an enemy to his rule, he still respected John and feared him.
But, instead of listening to the voice of God (the voice that knew that John the Baptist was speaking the truth, the voice that said to Herod that John ought to live and that he ought to be listened to) Herod listened to the voice of others.
Herod surrendered himself to his own judgements, his own lust, his own pride.
He became so enamored with lust that he made a reckless promise to Herodias who pleased him with her dancing (who was both his daughter and niece by the way). And then, in order to save face because of his reckless promise he made in front of others, he ordered the great prophet killed.
Like Herod, we also fall short of proclaiming Christ risen when we know the will of God and purposefully fail to do it.
Today, God still sends us prophets like John the Baptist to tell us what His will is. He sends us our grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers, fathers, priests, friends, family members, and strangers on the street, in order that He may tell us what His will for us and how we ought to live.
He gives us His Holy Scriptures which we are to read, study, and inwardly digest.
He gives us His Holy Church to teach us and help us interpret the great traditions of the Church passed down to us from the very first apostles.
And in the process of discerning God’s will and living out what we think it is, are we also prepared to act on it or will we, like Herod, reject it?
Are we going to shrink from our duties as Christians for the sake of being liked by others, or not wanting to offend others, or of wanting to be popular to others, or of wanting to receive the praise from others?
We are not alone in this struggle to live out our vocation. As St. Paul tells us in his letter to the the Hebrews, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” (Hebrews 12:1)
In our own time, we have many examples of martyrs killed because they stood up for the Truth.
Blessed Oscar Romero, a former Archbishop in El Salvador is one of my favorite saints. He was murdered in the 1970s as he was celebrating Mass. He was murdered by individuals who supported an aggressive and hostile government. He was murdered because he stood up for the rights of the oppressed who were being killed by the thousands.
Men and women like Blessed Oscar Romero—who have passed into Eternal Life, who did not shrink from their responsibilities to God and their neighbor— show us by their example how true and powerful our God is.
These holy men and women pray for us and intercede for us in Heaven just as you and I are asked or ask one another to pray for us here on Earth.
Ask yourself, “What is the will of God for me today?”
No task is too small. No task is too insignificant. Let everything we do be done today for the building up of His kingdom here on earth, whether that is smiling at your neighbor on the street or turning the other cheek when someone is angry at you and you just can’t understand why.
Pray that God may soften our tough hearts so that, even if we think we know what God is asking of us, that we may have the courage to let go of our own fears and anxieties and do that which is most pleasing in His sight.
By being our most true self, we glorify our Creator who loves us more than we can possibly imagine. The same God who challenges us to be better people today then we were tomorrow. Who forgives us when we fall, again, again, and again. Who sees us as we finally will be one day in His glorious kingdom.
We can’t give up.
Like John the Baptist, we have to keep fighting for what we know is right and not count the cost.
Like Herod, when we know the truth, let us do it without wavering or succumbing to the temptations of the earth.
And on the last day, may we be found by God to have correctly discerned and done His will. Let our prayer to God be like that of Jesus in the Garden, “Not my will, but yours, be done."
San Francisco, CA
July 15, 2018
Epistle: Ephesians 1:3-14
Gospel: Mark 6:14-29
Brother James Nathaniel can be contacted at email@example.com.