Such a man was John the Baptist.

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark.

King Herod heard of Jesus and his disciples, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.

But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias 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 give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.  (Mark 6:14-29)

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In the fifteenth century, or thereabouts, a certain priest, serving in the king’s chapel, was told by a  representative of the king, that His Majesty  would be in attendance at the morning service,  and that the priest should mind what he said in his sermon.

The priest replied, “There  will be someone greater than the king in attendance, and it is His presence that I shall mind.”

A brave man, that priest.

Such a man was John the Baptist.

Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, had visited his brother Philip in Rome, and while there had seduced Philip’s wife, Herodias, persuaded her to leave her husband and to marry him, Herod..

Herodias, as well as being his brother’s wife, and therefore his sister-in-law, was also the daughter of his half-brother Aristobulus, and Herod’s niece.

This only hints at the complicated relationships and marriage tangles in the Herod family.

The kind of relationship that Herod and Herodias were in, was unlawful, as defined in the Book of Leviticus.

John had publicly rebuked Herod because of his deliberate seduction of his brother’s wife, and the resulting adulterous marriage. That took a great amount of courage, by John. 

And he was arrested.

Ironically, Herod was something of an admirer of John, thinking him a godly and pure man, and enjoyed listening to him. But after watching Salome dance, he made that rash promise to her, and in doing so, was tricked into pronouncing John’s death sentence.

Why did John run the risk of death by publicly criticizing the king?

It might be that John had no choice but to criticize Herod and Herodias because Herod was someone who should show a good example, and also, because John, was calling everyone to repentance. 

He could hardly call the average person to repentance and turn a blind eye to what Herod was doing.

He could not keep silence.  And he paid for it with his life.

Herodias loathed John for preaching against her husband, and shining a light on their affair, but she could do nothing about it.

Not, that is,  until the celebration where her daughter danced for Herod.

We have the example of Herodias, who let the evil in her heart wreak evil against John, compared with the words of Jesus on the cross,

” Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.”

Wanting to get even with someone, wishing bad luck on someone who may have hurt us is inculcated in our culture, and in cultures  across the world, isn’t it?

Shiite Muslims discriminating against Sunni Muslims in Iraq, Muslims against Hindus, and Hindus against Muslims in India and Pakistan, Burmese Buddhists against Muslims in Myanmar etc, and until a few years ago Roman Catholics against Protestants, and vice versa, in Ireland.

Major religions behaving like the Hatfields and the McCoys –  remember hearing about them? 

About a hundred years ago, these two families, neighbours, had feuded with each other with tit- for -tat killings over decades, until they couldn’t remember what they had originally disagreed about.

Even John F. Kennedy, a much admired president, had a similar mindset. He is famously recorded as saying, ” Don’t get angry, get even.”

Where are the people who speak up against such destructive mindsets? And such destructive behaviour?

In some countries, people who speak up end up in prison. Just as John did.

In many countries today, people have been killed because they spoke up.

Others have just disappeared.

And yet unbelievably,  brave people still speak up against evil, whether practiced by governments or rapacious companies or even as we have seen, against the security establishments that have overstepped their boundaries.

Someone has to speak up against injustice, and government wrong-doing..

And it has to be done, because allowing bad things to continue

unrestrained over the centuries has fostered, or even encouraged decades, and centuries of ill-feeling – of hatred –  one group against another.

And ill-feeling towards others is never a one way thing.

Hating someone, or wishing evil on someone, you actually bring evil upon yourself.

Malachy McCourt, quoted by Alex Witchel in New York Times, and in Reader’s Digest,  said, “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

In other words, holding evil in your heart for someone else will poison you more than it does them.

Go figure!

Herodias would suffer for what she did to John the Baptizer. The evil in her heart would poison her life.

I have been in situations – involved with someone, for example, who had made me so angry with them that I was unable to sleep at night.  Until, that is, until I realised that the feelings I had against them did them no harm but instead were actually hurting me.

It’s like a guy I saw once in a movie, about to get into a bar brawl, grabbing a bottle to use as a weapon, and smashing it on the bar counter, and cutting his own hand!

So I changed my tactics, and prayed for good for those who had angered me. 

I asked for God to bless them.

And I found peace.

 And could sleep.

When we wish good on someone, when we bless them, when we help them, we receive much more good than they,  funnily enough.    

People who work in soup kitchens, or on the streets helping the homeless, talk about the fulfillment they feel in doing so.

In blessing others, they feel much more blessed themselves.

And it isn’t that they are helping someone just down on their luck -innocent victims of circumstance, as some are – no, some people go into the prison system to visit and pray with, murderers robbers, rapists, and find a blessing in doing so.

I want you to have that blessing, that ‘cup-runneth-over’ blessing for yourself, that comes from helping others. 

I have been surprised, sometimes, when talking with a family to prepare a funeral of a church member, a good Christian, to find out they hadn’t spoken to a brother or sister. for a number of years.

That’s more common than you would think.

For example, I was visiting a man who was dying, and his wife told me that he had something weighing on his mind that worried him.

I talked to him and he told me that he had fallen out with his brother-in- law, some years before and said some harsh things to him,  and he had regretted it ever since. 

He felt bad about it. What could he do?

I asked his wife, ” Do you have the brother-in-law’s phone number? ” and she said, ” Yes”

So I said to this man, ” Call your brother in law on the phone and ask for his forgiveness.”

He said, ” Can I just do that?”

“Of course.”

To his merit, he did, right there and then, and the rupture between them was mended.

He died peacefully a couple of days afterward.

Please take this message with you, have this in your heart: that we will never find true peace and true happiness by only concentrating on our own happiness. That we must find ways to help others – even enemies –  and that we will find our own happiness and peace that way.

Here is a prayer from the prayer book, to be read on John the Baptist’s Day, adapted slightly.

Almighty God, by whose providence thy servant John the Baptist, was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy Son our Saviour by preaching repentance; make us so to follow his doctrine and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching, and after his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly reject vice, and seek to make a difference in the lives of those who have no hope.  Amen.

And Amen.