AUGUST 29, 2008- BEHEADING OF JOHN THE BAPTIST: JER 1:17-19; MARK 6:17-29.

 

DO NOT BE CRUSHED BECAUSE OF THEM, AS IF I WOULD LEAVE YOU CRUSHED BEFORE THEM. The word of God is not always comforting, even when spoken to his chosen friends. Often the term employed to designate a prophetic message from God is masa (a burden).  Isaiah frequently uses it; Ezechiel employs the same term, and so do Hoseah, Zacharias, Malachy, and others. But for none of the prophets was the word of God more of a heavy weight than for the prophet Jeremiah. He realized from the beginning of his call that the words entrusted to him were to be heavy to bear. So it is not surprising that he uses this term, masa to designate his prophecy. Indeed, he was told to use this word by God himself who addressed the prophet: “And when these people, either a prophet or a priest, ask you ‘What is the burden of the Lord?’ you are to answer, “You are the burden  of the Lord; yes, you, and I mean to be rid of you! It is the Lord who speaks.” (Jer 23:33–34)

 

God’s words are a burden for people because they are so fraught with the weight of his glory. The Hebrew word for glory, kebod, derives from the verb kabed, meaning ‘to be heavy, burdensome’. In our present state, to enter into relation with the splendor of God is burdensome to the flesh, while being necessary for the spirit. Jesus understood that his mission was to change this state of affairs. Once he took on our human nature, a fresh relationship to the Father became possible. He made this new possibility known one day quite explicitly: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened and I will give you rest. . . . for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:28–30)

 

Matthew preserved this teaching of our Lord even after the martyrdom of the greatest of the Hebrew prophets, Saint John the Baptist, whose martyrdom we commemorate today. He wrote it for all of us knowing that the Lord Jesus himself, in carrying out the mission assigned him by the Father in heaven, had suffered torture, insults, and death because he faithfully carried out his prophetic mission. But, seen in the fresh perspective created by the risen Christ, the burden of God’s word sat more easily upon those who put their faith and trust in him; what had seemed so heavy as to weigh down the spirit now is light to carry. The conviction that a surpassing, divine love gives meaning to the burden of fidelity to his plans has made all the difference.

 

We find this conviction, and the experience that attends this persuasion, illustrated in the person of John the Baptist. Not a single word of complaint, not one word of pain or sorrow does he utter; on the contrary, even when his popularity begins to dim as the renown of Jesus spreads, it is joy, not complaint, that he feels. “The friend of the bridegroom rejoices when he hears the bridegroom’s voice.” (John 329) Thrown in prison, held in solitude for an extended time, he does not lose heart or show less spirit; he will not say a word to obtain release by compromising his witness to God’s word. Even before the resurrection, John believed in the final victory of the light over darkness that he saw embodied in the person of Christ.

 

Cardinal Danielou has pointed out that John’s mission did not terminate with his death. He reminds us that

Just as every grace comes to us through Mary, because she could not have borne Christ without being equally the mother of His Mystical Body, so in every conversion the way has been prepared by John the Baptist. . . . “I think,” wrote Origen, “that the mystery of John is still being carried out in the world. If some one is to believe in Jesus Christ, the spirit and power of John must first come into that soul and prepare for the Lord a perfect people.”[1]

 

The grace of Christ, the French Cardinal maintained, continues to prepare the way of the Lord through the desert of this world. The early monks understood this continuing role of Saint John Baptist, and took him for the patron of their way of following Christ.

 

By the grace of John the Baptist’s intercession and the merits of Jesus’ death and resurrection may the celebration of this Eucharist obtain for each of us a share in the same joy. The joy that arises from faithfully welcoming the Savior as he comes to lead us into the presence of the eternal Father.&                

 


 

[1] Jean Danielou, Advent, (New York: Sheed, 1951) 79.

 

 

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger