I Thessalonians 2.1-8; Psalm 138; Mark 6.17-29
Our modern liturgical books seem to bow to contemporary sensitivities by abandoning this feast’s grisly traditional title: The Beheading of John Baptist. In all four Gospels John the Baptiser is used as a kind of ‘foil’ or contrast to Jesus: their ministries pursue different goals. Yet it is clear that the tyrannical and unjust treatment of John had a profound effect on Jesus’ disciples—some of whom had first been John’s disciples [John 1.35]—and it came to seem a dramatic foreshadowing of the treatment that would be visited upon Jesus. And so there is an aptness to terming John’s macabre end his ‘Passion’.
The word, of course, comes from the Latin word passus, meaning ‘suffered’; we recite each Sunday in the Creed that Our Lord passus et sepultus est: he suffered and was buried. A passionate person displays strong feeling. Yet both John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ ‘Passions’ are characterised by reticence [cf Mark 15.5] and acquiescence.
The beheading of John Baptist reminds us of the lengths to which despotic rulers can go to preserve their power. From the beginning of his ministry John devoted himself to ‘calling out’ such misuse of authority. [cf Luke 3.12-14] Our meditation on John’s Passion invites us to consider how we use the authority given to us and to eschew every tendency we may have to cruelty and oppression.