The Holy Gospel according to Mark (6:14-29)
King Herod heard about Jesus, for his fame had become widespread, and people were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead; That is why mighty powers are at work in him.” Others were saying, “He is Elijah”; still others, “He is a prophet like any of the prophets.” But when Herod learned of it, he said, “It is John whom I beheaded. He has been raised up.”
Herod was the one who had John 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.
Herodias 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. His 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?” Her mother 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.
The Gospel of the Lord.
Reflection: Today’s Gospel reading can tend to make us uncomfortable, as it recalls the gruesome death of John the Baptist. There is also a stark contrast between John the Baptist and King Herod. John the Baptist was convinced of his mission to prepare the way for the Messiah with a call to repentance. Herod was conflicted and feared his commitment to self-preservation. John the Baptist’s death reminds us that John is imprisoned and eventually killed for speaking the truth when he tells Herod about his adulterous marriage. Herod was reluctant to kill John and distressed at the request to do so. The Gospel tells us that Herod thought John was a righteous and holy man, and that he liked to hear him speak. Herod eventually succumbs to political and family pressure and has John beheaded. How can we relate this Gospel to us today? Do we stand for the truth to the teachings of our Church, our faith, and our Lord, Jesus Christ? Or do we succumb to the pressures of the secular world that says some things are legal, but not moral? Do we stand convinced and convicted of the truth, or do we succumb to fear of “losing face” or offending someone or something? Evil enters this world through the willing choice of some, and it is empowered by the ambivalence of others. When faced with the terrible choices of an imperfect world, we have assurance of the certainty of God’s love. Today is also the optional memorial for St. Blaise, bishop and martyr. St. Blaise was one of the early martyrs known as the Fourteen Holy Helpers, a group of saints invoked against various diseases. St. Blaise is reputed to have been a doctor who healed a boy choking on a fish bone; accordingly he is invoked against illnesses of the throat. During my youth, I remember my mother taking my sister and me to church every February 3 to have our throats blessed.
Action for the day: We all know that there are things “the secular world” says are legal and OK to do, as long as we do not hurt anybody or it is between consenting adults, but are immoral and sinful. When faced with such a choice, may we pray for the grace to stand for the Truth and resist the temptation to fall. And, go get your throats blessed today!