The Martyrdom of St John the Baptist

John the Baptist died a horrible death at the whim of a dictator. That fact alone makes him seem a very modern man, doesn’t it? But there was more to John than that, a side to him that is not so easy to accommodate to our times. He dared to confront evil and name it for what it was: ‘it is against the Law for you to have your brother Philip’s wife’. It is worth thinking about those words. How many clergy today would challenge a leading politician about his/her irregular marital situation? Wouldn’t we be more likely to say, it is no business of yours; steer clear of politics, and of the private life of individuals?

John’s criticism of Herod landed him in prison. Although that tells us something about Herod, it tells us even more about John. He was a man of great integrity, consumed with zeal for the holiness of the Lord’s name. That made him awkward, putting him everlastingly on the margin, yet many, including Herod, found him strangely attractive. He confused Herod, who had never encountered anyone remotely similar, and yet ‘he liked to listen to him’.

Those of us who like to think we are believers are challenged by John. His integrity, his zeal, his courage and his compassion are all to be emulated. However, we do him an injustice if we forget the central fact about him: his joy at the nearness of his God. Slogging away for God may be admirable in its way, but joy, sheer unbounded delight in God and the things of God, brings us much closer to understanding the mystery of the Kingdom and the person of Jesus Christ our Lord. John’s fiery personality was lit up by that joy. At the end, that was all there was. ‘He must increase while I must decrease.’

During the days of the community retreat, these blog posts are being automated and I won’t be entering into any dialogue in the comments section. However, I hope that won’t dissuade you from commenting!


3 thoughts on “The Martyrdom of St John the Baptist”

  1. Thank you for this : there are unanswerable questions, however much we would like to think we might emulate John’s courage – but analogies are stimulating, and the vividly-expressed example of courageous faith is especially helpful in an era of loudly-voiced doubts.

  2. Would Herod have gone on listening to John the Baptist if he hadn’t allowed other voices (that of Herodias for example) to drown out the truth John spoke? I’ve never really thought about the joy of John the Baptist before, except in relation to his leaping in the womb before birth. Was it that joy of the Lord that meant Herod liked to listen to him, in spite of John’s criticism of his lifestyle?
    Hope your retreat is joyful Sister

  3. Yesterday’s post about St Augustine inspired me once again to try my hand at a little theology. To my surprise I found much joy and here again the blog posts up joy in the life of St John.
    Joy wasn’t a great part of my Christian upbringing and it delights me to find it here and in my lived experience of faith.

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