Today is the Feast of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist. In contrast to the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (observed on June 24), this feast commemorates his beheading by the tetrarch Herod Antipas. From the perspective of the world, this was a pathetic end to John the Baptist’s life. Yet it was in fact a noble participation in the cross of Christ. Our Lord Himself said that none had arisen greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11). He was the last of the prophets in the tradition of the Old Testament, and was the “prophesied prophet” – the Elijah of whom Malachi spoke who would come to prepare the way for the Lord (Malachi 3:1; 4:5-6; Matthew 17;10-13) and the voice crying in the wilderness foretold by Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3) . John prepared the way for Christ by proclaiming “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has arrived” (Matthew 3:2) and administering a baptism of repentance. John’s death anticipated that of the Christ for whom he prepared the way. By his own martyrdom he bore witness to the fact that God works through the cross in the lives of His people, and that they bear witness to Jesus Christ as they suffer, and even die in His name.
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.
But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias's daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:14-29)
Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, You gave Your servant John the Baptist to be the forerunner of Your Son, Jesus Christ, in both his preaching of repentance and his innocent death. Grant that we, who have died and risen with Christ in Holy Baptism, may daily repent of our sins, patiently suffer for the sake of the truth, and fearlessly bear witness to His victory over death; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.