Friday, August 29, 2008

Remembering John the Baptizer

Today is the memorial for the “Beheading of John the Baptist.” (In my late teens I heard Leonard Ravenhill call him “John the Baptizer,” saying the Baptists had had him long enough, and that has stuck with me all these years — thus my title.)

The Office of Readings for today is taken from a homily by Venerable Bede in which he says of John: “His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth.” How many who claim to follow Jesus remain silent about truth while the world around them proclaims lies that take us further and further into calamity? Bede continues — “Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: I am the truth? Therefore, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ.”

Then, in masterful homiletical style, Bede draws a series of contrasts that exhort all of us to faithfulness:

He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men; he was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life and deserved to be called a bright and shining lamp by that Light itself, which is Christ. John was baptized in his own blood, though he had been privileged to baptize the Redeemer of the world, to hear the voice of the Father above him, and to see the grace of the Holy Spirit descending upon him. But to endure temporal agonies for the sake of the truth was not a heavy burden for such men as John; rather it was easily borne and even desirable, for he knew eternal joy would be his reward.

The selection from Bede ends with a quote from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us. May we all hunger and thirst for such faith!

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