21st Saturday in Ordinary Time
Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist
Jeremiah 1: 17 – 19; Ps 71; Mark 6: 17 – 29
Today we celebrate the Passion of St. John the Baptist and our remembering this brings to mind two things: first, obviously his passion and death. Imprisoned he awaited his fate at the hands of King Herod. Secondly, and more importantly, the word ‘passion’ clearly describes his whole life of faithful dedication to God as His messenger, a willingness to lay down his life for his Lord with zeal, with passion. In his own words, “He must increase, I must decrease.”
Whereas John’s passion was only for good, the passion of Herodias was fed by hatred. He was strong in his resolve and lived in the true freedom of the Spirit. Herodias was strong in her obsession for vengeance and through a dance, she found her chance. Although she thought she would be free by demanding the beheading of John, she only enslaved her own spirit the more.
For all this, John’s reward was Eternal Life and Herodias’ reward was a severed head on a dish. He seemed to be defeated but actually triumphed and she seemed to triumph but in reality was defeated. And Herod, the king, was caught between them. He feared John the Baptist yet he was captivated by his words. Seduced by a dance he also feared looking like a fool before his guests so, even though distressed, he gave in to the gross request.
What can we learn from this Gospel? I believe it has something say about being victimized. Although John is killed, he is not the only victim. Herod is a victim of maintaining human respect and he victimizes himself. Herodias is a victim of maintaining her position of prestige in an unlawful marriage, victimizing herself through hate-filled revenge.
Anyone of us can be victimized by another at any time and for any reason. Recently, the murder of the TV reporter and cameraman in Virginia is a terrible example of this. Innocent people have become targets for some whose only way to deal with difficult situations is to kill.
Because of our humanness, we can and sometimes do victimize ourselves. We can allow ourselves to be enslaved by negativity, by sinful desires, wishes, decisions that arise because there are situations in life that bring them about.
Because of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, we need never be victimized in our hearts by another’s behavior or by our own negative reactions however strong or inviting. With this gift of God Himself, we always have the means to live in interior freedom, in our depths which no one can touch. With this in mind, St. Paul writes in Galatians: “For freedom Christ has set us free, so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery” (Gal 5: 1), and we can add especially self-imposed enslavement.