Today marks the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist and Forerunner. From the Gospel according to St. Mark:
14 King Herod heard of it; for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; that is why these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Eli′jah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 17 For Herod had sent and seized John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Hero′di-as, his brother Philip’s wife; because he had married her. 18 For John said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Hero′di-as had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. When he heard him, he was much perplexed; and yet he heard him gladly. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Hero′di-as’ daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will grant it.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out, and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king, and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry; but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard and gave orders to bring his head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
There is much that the life, and death, of St. John the Baptist can teach us.
First, marriage is a sacred thing. To defend God’s intentions and laws regarding marriage is something that is worth dying for.
Second, Mark’s Gospel tells us that John was having a positive influence on Herod. Despite what John was saying about Herod’s illicit union, Herod was glad to hear the Baptist speak. Clearly there was some part of him that was responding to God’s message. Unfortunately, his choice of “associates” meant that he never had the chance to continue to hear and to repent.
Third, we can see the danger of wine and women to a man’s senses. Herod never wanted John dead, despite what the Baptist said. But those two constant haunts of man led him to make a rash vow he felt compelled to honor. Important lesson for my male readers: wine + women = folly.
Fourth, we can see here that women are just as capable of wickedness as men. It was Herodias, not Herod, who wanted John dead. She was the instigator of this evil. And her daughter went right along with it.