John the Baptist, Herod and Us
Today is the feast day of the beheading of John the Baptist. His message of repentance is extremely unpopular in our day. We live in a time of cheap grace. When men bother to think of God at all they often tend to view him as a pal, a good joe who will gather us into a Heavenly Kingdom that is like Disneyland on steroids where we will be happy forever, no matter what wretched evil we have committed in this life. What could be more opposite to this view of “God loves us just the way we are” than the burning message of the Baptist?
 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and Philip his brother tetrarch of Iturea, and the country of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilina;  Under the high priests Annas and Caiphas; the word of the Lord was made unto John, the son of Zachary, in the desert.  And he came into all the country about the Jordan, preaching the baptism of penance for the remission of sins;  As it was written in the book of the sayings of Isaias the prophet: A voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.  Every valley shall be filled; and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight; and the rough ways plain;
 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.  He said therefore to the multitudes that went forth to be baptized by him: Ye offspring of vipers, who hath shewed you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of penance; and do not begin to say, We have Abraham for our father. For I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham.  For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down and cast into the fire.  And the people asked him, saying: What then shall we do?
 And he answering, said to them: He that hath two coats, let him give to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do in like manner.  And the publicans also came to be baptized, and said to him: Master, what shall we do?  But he said to them: Do nothing more than that which is appointed you.  And the soldiers also asked him, saying: And what shall we do? And he said to them: Do violence to no man; neither calumniate any man; and be content with your pay.  And as the people were of opinion, and all were thinking in their hearts of John, that perhaps he might be the Christ;
 John answered, saying unto all: I indeed baptize you with water; but there shall come one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to loose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:  Whose fan is in his hand, and he will purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.  And many other things exhorting, did he preach to the people.  But Herod the tetrarch, when he was reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’ s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done;  He added this also above all, and shut up John in prison.
The Baptist tells us the truth: that God is I Am, the Creator of all, and that he wants repentance and reformation of our lives. This truth is hard, so pleasing lies tend to be substituted for it, and our time is awash in such lies with the downward primrose path turned into a superhighway. If our age had a patron “saint” that truly reflected it, I suspect it would be Herod, the nemesis of John. He recognizes the truth, is tempted by it, and ignores it in favor of sex and death:
Herod gives us an easy path to Hell and John gives us a hard path to Heaven. It would seem to be no contest, except that the ringing words of the Baptist, announcing to all of humanity the coming of Christ, can never be silenced by a headman’s axe or the indifference and tired hedonism of our day. The Herods always have their hour upon the stage of History, but the Baptists are the instruments by which God will work His will and rewrite the play.