Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, Martyr (August 29)   3 comments

Above: The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, by Caravaggio, 1608

St. John the Baptist:  Forerunner of Jesus in Death

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The Assigned Readings for This Feast:

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

Psalm 139:7-12

Mark 6:17-29

The Collect:

God our Father, you called John the Baptist to be the herald of your Son’s birth and death.  As he gave his life in witness to truth and justice, so may we strive to profess our faith in your gospel.  Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son.  Amen.

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Herod Antipas was a client ruler of the Roman Empire.  He governed the Galilee from 4 B.C.E. to 40 C.E., following the death of his grandfather, King Herod the Great.  Herod Antipas had entered into an incestuous marriage by wedding Herodias, the niece of his late half-brother, Alexander, and former wife of his brother, Philip Herod I.  The scene from the Gospel story is disturbing:  Herod Antipas leering at Salome, at the daughter of his new wife.  From this flowed a series of events which culminated in the beheading of St. John the Baptist.

Salome married her uncle, Philip Herod II.  After he died in 34 C.E., she wed Aristobolus of Chalcis, a son of Herod of Chalcis, another one of her uncles.  Aristobolus was the Roman client king of Armenia Minor from 55 to 72 C.E.  He ordered the minting of coins bearing Salome’s image.  An image follows:

St. John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus.  He identified our Lord as the Messiah and prepared the way for him.  And St. John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus in dying.  The literary term for all this is foreshadowing.  Remember that before the authors of the canonical gospels began to write they knew how the story ended.  Thus each wrote with a thesis in mind and selected details to mention within that context.

Another point comes to mind.  Often the world seems unfair.  Why do the righteous suffer and the unrighteous prosper?  Why did St. John the Baptist suffer and the members of the Herodian dynasty enjoy relatively prominent status, having the power to order executions?  I am not here to answer such questions, for I seek them, too.  But I know that we recall the names of of Herod Antipas, Herodias, and Salome in the context of St. John the Baptist, and that we praise the latter while condemning the former.  Perhaps there is a measure of justice in that.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2010

THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR C

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Published originally at SUNDRY THOUGHTS OF KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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