DAILY GOSPEL COMMENTARY: THE DEATH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST (Mt 14:1–12).
GOSPEL OF SATURDAY, 17TH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME (Mt 14:1–12)
Herod the tetrarch heard of the reputation of Jesus and said to his servants, “This man is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him.”
Now Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, for John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Although he wanted to kill him, he feared the people, for they regarded him as a prophet. But at a birthday celebration for Herod, the daughter of Herodias performed a dance before the guests and delighted Herod so much that he swore to give her whatever she might ask for. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests who were present, he ordered that it be given, and he had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who took it to her mother. His disciples came and took away the corpse and buried him; and they went and told Jesus.
GOSPEL COMMENTARY (from the Navarre Bible, Commentary to the Gospel of St. Matthew (with permission).
- 1 Herod the tetrarch, Herod Antipas is the same Herod as appears later in the account of the Passion (cf. Lk 23:7ff).
- A son of Herod the Great, Antipas governed Galilee and Perea in the name of the Roman emperor; according to Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian (Jewish Antiquities, XVIII, 5, 4), he was married to a daughter of an Arabian king, but in spite of this he lived in concubinage with Herodias, his brother’s wife.
- St John the Baptist, and Jesus himself, often criticized the tetrarch’s immoral lifestyle, which was in conflict with the sexual morality laid down in the Law (Lev 18:16; 20:21) and was a cause of scandal.
- 3-12 Towards the end of the first century Flavius Josephus wrote of these same events.
- He gives additional information – specifying that it was in the fortress of Makeronte that John was imprisoned (this fortress was on the eastern bank of the Dead Sea, and was the scene of the banquet in question) and that Herodias’ daughter was called Salome.
- 9 St Augustine comments: “Amid the excesses and sensuality of the guests, oaths are rashly made, which then are unjustly kept” (Sermon 10).
- It is a sin against the second commandment of God’s Law to make an oath to do something unjust; any such oath has no binding force. In fact, if one keeps it – as Herod did — one commits an additional sin.
- The Catechism also teaches that one offends against this precept if one swears something untrue, or swears needlessly (cf. (Catechism of the Council of Trent, III, 3, 24).
From a homily by St. Bede the Venerable, priest. Precursor of Christ in birth and death
As forerunner of our Lord’s birth, preaching and death, the blessed John showed in his struggle a goodness worthy of the sight of heaven. In the words of Scripture: Though in the sight of men he suffered torments, his hope is full of immortality. We justly commemorate the day of his birth with a joyful celebration, a day which he himself made festive for us through his suffering and which he adorned with the crimson splendour of his own blood. We do rightly revere his memory with joyful hearts, for he stamped with the seal of martyrdom the testimony which he delivered on behalf of our Lord.
There is no doubt that blessed John suffered imprisonment and chains as a witness to our Redeemer, whose forerunner he was, and gave his life for him. His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: I am the truth? Therefore, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ.
Through his birth, preaching and baptizing, he bore witness to the coming birth, preaching and baptism of Christ, and by his own suffering he showed that Christ also would suffer.
Such was the quality and strength of the man who accepted the end of this present life by shedding his blood after the long imprisonment. He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men; he was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life and deserved to be called a bright and shining lamp by that Light itself, which is Christ. John was baptized in his own blood, though he had been privileged to baptize the Redeemer of the world, to hear the voice of the Father above him, and to see the grace of the Holy Spirit descending upon him. But to endure temporal agonies for the sake of the truth was not a heavy burden for such men as John; rather it was easily borne and even desirable, for he knew eternal joy would be his reward.
Since death was ever near at hand through the inescapable necessity of nature, such men considered it a blessing to embrace it and thus gain the reward of eternal life by acknowledging Christ’s name. Hence the apostle Paul rightly says: You have been granted the privilege not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for his sake. He tells us why it is Christ’s gift that his chosen ones should suffer for him: The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us.
VIDEO COMMENTARY ON TODAY’S GOSPEL
TOPIC: What is wrong in believing and practicing superstition?
Today’s reading is about the death of John the Baptist, beheaded upon the orders of Herod Antipas after being charmed by Salome, who asked for John’s head on a dish. Salome is the daughter of Herodias, his second wife. She was the one who prompted Salome to ask for John’s head.
It seems, by all accounts, Herod Antipas was a weak and highly superstitious man. He thought Jesus was the reincarnation of John the Baptist and was out to exact revenge. He was afraid to sentence Jesus and gave Him back to Pilate.
Today, we see a lot of people who are very superstitious. From athletes to queens and kings, from the poor on the streets to the wealthiest businessmen, it seems superstition is very common. People become very insecure when a superstitious belief is not followed – for example, businessmen who attribute bad profits to not observing feng shui in the arrangement of furniture and fixture in their homes and offices, or paying large amounts of money just to get lucky numbers on their cars, and the like.
For many, superstitious beliefs and actions are a balm for anxiety and the stresses of life. The harder life is – as in during this pandemic – it seems people engage more in superstition.
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