Monday, August 29, 2016

The Passion of John the Baptist

Caravaggio's "Salome with the Head of John the Baptist"

"Amen, I say to you, among those born of women
there has been none greater than John the Baptist..."

(Mt 11:11a)

The question for John centered on God's revealed plan for marriage and family. The Baptist saw the situation clearly, and he courageously followed his convictions from prison to the platter.  There was no "personally opposed but..." for this very public figure.

Yet how would a post-modern and allegedly pluralistic people view this story?  Might they ask whether John went to his gruesome death needlessly?  Might they wonder whether he was simply out of touch with the times, or whether he was just too outspoken about his private opinions?

Even more dramatically, by today's standards might people view the Baptist as being guilty of judging Herod and Herodias--and, therefore, rightly condemned for such "hate speech"?

And what about the fact that Jesus praised John for such an intransigent and seemingly intolerant stance? Did Jesus himself have the whole marriage thing wrong?  By today's standards many people might wonder how the "Face of the Father's Mercy," as Pope Francis describes the Lord Jesus, could be so harsh as to say, "Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others...Whoever can accept this ought to accept it" (Mt 19:12). 

According to the deconstructive claim of radical secularism, the only truth about marriage is that there is no truth about marriage.  If the reality of marriage is not something given, then it must be  something determined by those in power.  Marriage and family become whatever the Herods and Herodiases of our time say they are.  Anyone who dares to challenge this so-called new normal--with questions such as "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’"? (Mt 19:4)--must be silenced.


The obvious challenge for Christians of the 21st century remains the same as the one which the Baptist confronted:  How to speak the truth with love?  John clearly struck a chord with Herod, who used to like to listen to him, even though the Baptist perplexed him.  John was unafraid of the fact that darkness always strives to swallow up the light; he knew that the only constructive stance against injustice is to dissent.  Complicity with a lie only perpetuates the silencing of truth. 

John was able to speak with love of the one who is Love by rooting his life in the simple Christ-centered prayer: "He must increase; I must decrease" (Jn 3:30).

The question of our day regarding marriage and family: Whenever our moment(s) of Christian witness may arrive, will we have the courage of the Baptist to protect and promote God's beautiful vision for human love?  Will allow our worldly desires to decrease so that the very presence of the Lord might increase in our minds and hearts?

If so, then we may well find ourselves sharing in the passion of John the Baptist--served up on some proverbial platter.  But we will have the joy of hearing these reassuring words from the Lord:

"...yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Mt 11:11b).