Memorial of the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist
(I Thessalonians 3:7-13; Mark 6:17-29)
A famous experiment showed that people are likely to inflict lethal pain on an innocent person if told to by an authority. When the professor who designed the experiment polled his students and colleagues beforehand, few predicted that subjects would be so compassionless. But to the chagrin of all the results have been duplicated in different societies. Today’s gospel paints a similarly dismal portrait of humans.
King Herod recognizes John as "righteous and holy." From the account it sounds as if Herod wants to keep John as a spiritual guide. But as attuned as Herod might be to John's goodness, he does not rise above his own pride. Because he promises Herodias' daughter anything that she asks, he executes the eminently honorable John in order to not appear weak and unfaithful to his word. A decent person would have apologized for his foolhardy promise and disciplined his step-daughter for making such an 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.