Memorial of the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist
(I Thessalonians 4:13-18; Mark 6:17-29)
Lord of the Flies tells the story of a group of schoolboys shipwrecked on a deserted island who are forced to struggle for survival. At first they work together and establish a rescue plan. Not long afterwards, however, two factions develop with the members of one hunting down those of the other. The drama conveys the idea that people are quite capable of treating others cruelly, at least when no one is looking. Many reject this base opinion of human nature, but often enough human atrocities occur - like the attempted genocide of Jews by the Nazis - that defy its complete dismissal. Although an isolated incident, the story of John the Baptist's beheading also gives an air of plausibility to the gloomy opinion of humanity.
Herod recognizes John as "righteous and holy." The gospel today sounds almost as if he wants to keep John close-by to provide spiritual guidance. But as attuned as Herod might be to John's goodness, he cannot rise above his own pride. Because he promises Herodias' daughter anything that she asks, he executes the eminently honorable man in order to appear true to his word. A decent person would have apologized for his foolhardy promise and disciplined his step-daughter for her outrageous request.
We are wise not to deny our capacity to sin grievously and to thank God every day that we have avoided offending Him. It is His grace, given through Christ, which turns us from brutal nature into people who love and desire the good.