>Martrydom of St. John the Baptist

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Carvaggio, 1608

Ok, that title is a more polite way of describing this event. In my house full of rough and tumble boys, they tend to use the other, more graphic title: The Beheading of John the Baptist.

Sigh.
I guess in our modern era of shock tv and horror movies, even this grisly story seems tame.
What a shame. Maybe it should shock and make our stomach’s flop and faces wince.
It does mine.
I used to (still do, really…sometimes) wonder why we had to have these gruesome stories in the bible, and even commemorate them. I mean, really? As they say, “Why can’t we all just get along?” Why can’t it be “nice?” Let’s just look at the pretty stuff…..yes, Pollyanna….

But as we all know all too well, REAL life isn’t always pretty. Real life has real hurt, real gore, real unexplainable happenings, that can’t be explained away….except perhaps by the real existence of evil and our all too human nature to be seduced by it.
And this true story, that we remember especially today, is about evil, to be sure.
I mean, Salome asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter…because her mother told her to ask as she danced. Her mother was so torqued at John for calling out Herod on his adultery (with her), that she pressed her daughter to ask for his death, and decapitation at that.
Talk about a vengeful woman…

Anyhow, this story is not only about that evil impulse and gory act. It’s about John the Baptist being both a harbinger of Christ and His sacrifice to come, but also a man who stood up for Truth – no matter what.

Now, even in our modern days, holding onto truth can sure get hard. Especially when so much of the idea of truth has become a dull gray slide rule……there is not much black and white anymore; absolute truths or rights or wrongs. Or, so it seems in our popular modern culture. And yet, of course, there still is real truth, but it’s not always popular or ‘pc’ or whatever. And while I haven’t heard to too many folks getting beheaded for being ‘non-pc’ lately, there is still a pressure out there to just…not. Not get involved. Not care. Not worry about anyone else. Not call it like it is. Not get into anybody’s business.

But really, it IS a fine line. I myself have more opinions than most, but I find the words “Judge not” ring in my ears. So, how to jive that all up? I don’t know. I tend to do the best I can on the fly. Which is probably pretty poorly, most of the time. I’ll either get too timid to speak up, or too tired, or I will speak up and stick my foot in it. Typically I just throw my opinions out there anyhow.

So, I can let my boys play with swords and be good guys and bad guys; acting out the scary hard ideas of good and evil, right and wrong. And this story can have a place in that sort of teaching, eventually. St. John the Baptist teaches us that we should not be afraid. That speaking the Truth is hard, possibly even dangerous. There is real danger in life, and sometimes it cannot be escaped. But, it is worth it.

And the caveat is: the Truth is Love. Love is Truth. And so….if you (ok, me) can try speak of Truth/Love, with courage….then you or I will live it as well.

Icon written by Constantine Youssis

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