21st Wednesday in Ordinary Time
Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist
Jr 1:17-19; Mk 6:17-29
Apparent triumph. Apparent defeat. At the moment, it looked like evil had triumphed and goodness had lost. Herodias sits gloating over the platter on her lap; nearby, in a prison cell, lays a human torso in a pool of blood. Seeming triumph. Seeming defeat.
Herodias had plotted, she bided her time, she waited for the opportunity to ripen. We are told, “Herodias harbored a grudge against [John the Baptist] and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so. . . . She had the opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday, gave a banquet . . .” Like Jezebel before her, she knew how to use her position to accomplish her objectives.
Herod and Herodias had been corrupted by power. They were living openly in an adulterous relationship. They could be smug because they knew they could get away with it. To them, power and position were more important than integrity. Not so for John. For him, righteousness, integrity, and the truth were worth dying for. His prophetic voice would ring out no matter the consequences.
Evil may have its day. It may seem at times like it doesn’t pay to be a champion of goodness. But that’s only in the short term. Evil is doomed to be eternally crushed. Think of the image of Mother Mary with the serpent under her foot. In her day, she was an insignificant woman in an insignificant village. The rich and the powerful seemed to dominate the stage and do whatever they pleased. We see her immortalized in Michelangelo’s Pieta. Seeming triumph of evil. Seeming defeat of goodness. But the days of evil are numbered. The more lasting image is the majestic queen of heaven with her foot firmly on the head of the snake that had derailed God’s beautiful creation. God will have the last word, not evil. The triumph of evil is like a charade; it is superficial. It has no future.
Think of it . . . what became of Herodias? What became of John the Baptist? Herodias was probably buried amid pomp and worldly display. But history remembers her in a cast of villains. I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes on the Day of Judgment. John the Baptist, by contrast, had a very simple and humble burial. We just heard, “When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.” But now he is honored and respected and emulated the world over. For all eternity he will have a very privileged position in heaven. Jesus himself declared, “Among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist” (Mt. 11:11).
It may seem at times that being on the side of goodness doesn’t pay. There are countries in Central American and South America right now where corruption is rampant and “might makes right.” There may have been days when it seemed advantageous to seminarians and clergy to be part of the so-called “Lavender Mafia.” But the triumph of evil is always short-lived. God is patient in letting the weeds grow with the wheat, but there will be a day of reckoning when he will send his angels to wield the sickle.
In times when we are tempted to discouragement by the apparent triumph of evil, we need to look to examples like John the Baptist and Mother Mary. They may have lost a battle, but they didn’t lose the war.