Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist
(I Thessalonians 3:7-13; Mark 6:17-29)
In the gospel reading today and in one of the first readings last week a man makes an oath to do something that turns out to be immoral. Herod promises his stepdaughter anything that she might ask. He does not imagine her wanting him to murder. In the Book of Judges Jephthat promises to sacrifice the first thing that emerges from his house upon his return if God grants him victory. Does he likewise not contemplate the possibility of killing someone? In any event he was not thinking of making a holocaust of his own daughter. We must ask, “Are such oaths binding?”
No, they are not because they involve doing something evil which is always wrong. In both cases, unfortunately, the men are so proud that they see themselves as God whose word of necessity is efficacious. They need humility. The should humble themselves by begging forgiveness from God for their mindlessness. Instead each carries out an unconscionable act.
Of course, today’s celebration of the passion of John the Baptist should be for us more than a lesson on oath-taking. John dies like an Old Testament prophet giving witness to the truth. His manner of death prefigures Jesus’. A civil system that arrests a man for speaking out against immorality will hardly tolerate one who seeks to inaugurate an even higher righteousness throughout the land. A more perfect man than John the Baptist, Jesus will suffer a more brutal death.