Thursday, August 29, 2013
1) Opening prayer
help us to seek the values
that will bring us enduring joy in this changing world.
In our desire for what you promise
make us one in mind and heart.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Mark 6,17-29
Now it was this same Herod who had sent to have John arrested, and had had him chained up in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife whom he had married. For John had told Herod, 'It is against the law for you to have your brother's wife.' As for Herodias, she was furious with him and wanted to kill him, but she was not able to do so, because Herod was in awe of John, knowing him to be a good and upright man, and gave him his protection. When he had heard him speak he was greatly perplexed, and yet he liked to listen to him.
An opportunity came on Herod's birthday when he gave a banquet for the nobles of his court, for his army officers and for the leading figures in Galilee. When the daughter of this same Herodias came in and danced, she delighted Herod and his guests; so the king said to the girl, 'Ask me anything you like and I will give it you.' And he swore on her oath, 'I will give you anything you ask, even half my kingdom.'
She went out and said to her mother, 'What shall I ask for?' She replied, 'The head of John the Baptist.' The girl at once rushed back to the king and made her request, 'I want you to give me John the Baptist's head, immediately, on a dish.' The king was deeply distressed but, thinking of the oaths he had sworn and of his guests; he was reluctant to break his word to her.
At once the king sent one of the bodyguards with orders to bring John's head. The man went off and beheaded him in the prison; then he brought the head on a dish and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When John's disciples heard about this, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
• Today we commemorate the martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist. The Gospel gives a description of how John the Baptist was killed, without a process, during a banquet, victim of the corruption and arrogance of Herod and of his court.
• Mark 6, 17-20. The cause of the imprisonment and murdering of John. Herod was an employee of the Roman Empire, who commanded in Palestine since the year 63 before Christ. Caesar was the Emperor of Rome. He insisted above all, in an efficient administration which would provide revenue for the Empire and for him. The concern of Herod was his own promotion and his security. This is why he repressed any type of corruption. He liked to be called the benefactor of the people, but in reality he was a tyrant (cf. Lk 22, 25). Flavio Giuseppe, a writer of that time, informs that the reason for the imprisonment of John the Baptist was the fear that Herod had of a popular uprising or revolt. The denunciation of John the Baptist’s against the depraved morality of Herod (Mk 6, 18), was the drop which made the glass overflow, and John was imprisoned.
• Mark 6, 21-29: The plot of the murderer. The anniversary and banquet of the feast, with dancing and orgy were the occasion for the murdering of John. It was an environment in which the powerful of the kingdom met together and in which the alliances were formed. In the feast participated “the great of the court, two officials and two important persons from Galilee”. This was the environment in which the murdering of John the Baptist was decided. John, the prophet, was a living denunciation of that corrupt system, and this is why he was eliminated under the pretext of a personal vengeance. All this reveals the moral weakness of Herod. So much power accumulated in the hands of one man who had no control of self. In the enthusiasm of the feast, of the celebration and of wine, Herod makes a promise by oath to a young girl, a dancer. Superstitious as he was, he thought that he had to keep the promise made by oath. For Herod, the life of the subjects was worthless. This is how Mark gives an account of the fact as it happened and leaves the communities the task of drawing the conclusion.
• Between lines, the Gospel today gives much information on the time in which Jesus lived and on the way in which the power was exercised on the part of the powerful of that time. Galilee, the land of Jesus, was governed by Herod Antipas, the son of King Herod, the Great, from the year 4 before Christ until the year 39 after Christ, 43 years! During the whole time of the life of Jesus on earth there was no change of Government in Galilee! Herod was absolute lord of everything, and did not render an account to anyone, he did as he pleased. In him there was arrogance, lack of ethics, absolute power, without any control on the part of the people!
• Herod constructed a new capital, called Tiberiades. Seffori the ancient capital, was destroyed by the Romans in retaliation against the popular revolt. This happened when Jesus was about seven years old. Tiberiade, the new capital, was inaugurated thirteen years later, when Jesus was approximately 20 years old. The capital was given that name in order to please Tiberius, the Emperor of Rome. Tiberiade was a strange place in Galilee. That was the place where the king, “the great of the court”, the officials, the important people of Galilee lived (Mc 6, 21). The landowners, the soldiers, the policemen lived there and also the judges, who, many times were insensitive, and indifferent (Lk 18, 1-4). The taxes and tributes and the products of the people were channelled there. It was there that Herod held his orgies of death (Mk 6, 21-29). The Gospel does not say the Jesus entered the city.
During the 43 years of the government of Herod, a class of officials, faithful to the project of the king, was created: the Scribes, the merchants, the landowners, the tax collectors on the market, the tax collectors or publicans, the militia, policemen, judges, promoters, local heads. The majority of these persons lived in the capital and enjoyed the privileges which Herod offered, for example exemption from taxes. Others lived in the villages. In every village or city there was a group of persons who supported the government. Several Scribes and Pharisees were bound to the system and to the politics of the Government. In the Gospels, the Pharisees appear together with the Herodians (Mk 3, 6; 8, 15; 12, 13), and this shows the existing alliance between the religious and the civil powers. The life of the people in the villages of Galilee was very controlled, both by the government and by religion. Much courage was necessary to begin something new, as John and Jesus did! It was the same thing as to attract on oneself the anger of the privileged ones, both those of the religious power as those of the civil power, both at local and state levels.
4) Personal questions
• Do you know any persons who died victims of corruption and the dominion of the powerful? And here, among us, in our community and in the Church, are there some victims of authoritarianism or of the excess of power? Give an example.
• Superstition, corruption, cowardice marked the exercise of power of Herod. Compare this with the exercise of religious and civil power today, in the various levels both of society and of the Church.
5) Concluding Prayer
In you, Yahweh, I take refuge,
I shall never be put to shame.
In your saving justice rescue me,
deliver me, listen to me and save me. (Ps 71,1-2)