|We know this story of the terrible end to the life of the great prophetic voice of John the Baptist. John, who was sent to prepare the way for the ministry of Jesus, preceded our Savior in a death at the hands of powerful forces offended by his preaching. We can be shocked and angry at Herod’s wife, Herodias, or at her daughter who blindly obeyed her mothers unspeakably cruel request of Herod. Of course, Herod put John in jail in the first place, over John’s challenge to Herod’s marriage of his brother’s wife. And, it was Herod, who in a drunken and boastful promise to show off before his friends, was caught be his own pride in carrying out his execution of John.
We live in a nasty world today as well. The pressure to “fit in” with the predominant culture around us is very strong. It is not easy or simple to live, let alone witness to, gospel values today. We are bitterly divided on cultural issues, to such a degree that it is difficult to sort out which are my deepest values, based upon our faith. It can be difficult to hold onto a consistent ethic of life, which holds sacred the dignity of every human life, in the face of deep bigotry, racism, and even nationalism. Some life is too often seen as less valuable. It is difficult to imagine that our God is happy with how this world has turned out – the tremendous injustices everywhere, and the degradation of our planet in ways that are threatening human life all over the world.
It may sound overly simple, but the way of Jesus has always been our way. Developing an intimate relationship with Jesus draws us closer to him, especially to his way. The closer I grow in affection with Jesus, the better I I get at knowing the answer to the question, “What would Jesus do?” The close I grow in affection with him, the easier it is to instinctively know that the way I’ve been relating with the people closest to me isn’t working out to be the way of Jesus. Stripping away the impatience, harshness, punishing and constant bickering, is the first step in living a life more in harmony with Jesus’ way. I can only change of my heart begins to change. If I grow in gratitude for being a forgiven sinner myself, I can become softer, more compassionate and more loving at home. It is this “dying to self” that allows me to love those closest to me. It is the first step in allowing me to be better at loving the “neighbor” around me, with mercy and compassion, and self-sacrificing love. Then, the inner fire of anger at so many people, fear of so much, and conflict with those who have different ideas than mine, begins to change. Then, “What would Jesus do?” become a challenging question to ask in very concrete situations.
All this is preparatory to public martyrdom – public witness to our faith in a culture that is not in harmony with our faith. To stand in solidarity with those who are the most rejected and marginalized in our culture, to work hard to act against the many ways we are hurting our planet and all those who are the first and worst to suffer, to act publicly and try to witness to a life of mercy and compassion, with put me at odds with very powerful forces. The forces which profit mightily to sustain systemic injustice will not surrender their power easily or kindly. I may not end up being beheaded, like John, but the backlash to living the way of Jesus will be strong and powerful. John’s courage and integrity can be a great grace for us, individually, and as a faith community, as we chew the message of his martyrdom today.
May we ask for the grace to grow in intimacy with Jesus. May we be blessed with growing freedom and courage to live his way, and support each other in that way. And, may we be witnesses, each in our own way, to the transformational power of taking up our cross daily to be his disciples in this world – beginning at home, reaching out to our communities, our countries and to the whole world.