No figure is as mysterious in Holy Writ as Saint John the Baptist, the Precursor sent to announce the coming of Christ, wrapped in the power and force of Elijah the prophet. In many ways the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets, like them preaching tirelessly and fearlessly a message of repentance, and, like most of them, announcing that a Messiah was coming to bring salvation from God.
Today is the feast of the beheading of John the Baptist. It is a very old feast, as old, perhaps, as the other feast day we have for the birth of the Baptist.
The calls of the Baptist for repentance and his announcement that the long expected Messiah had arrived, had a shattering impact on his audiences, as they crowded around him to receive baptism. The fire of his faith, and his complete lack of fear, is a standing rebuke to Christians who have allowed their faith to grow cold, and who fear the World, the Flesh and the Devil more than they love the God who loves each of us as though there were no other Men except us.
Here is the description by the Jewish historian Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews, of the circumstances that gave rise to the imprisonment of John:
About this time Aretas, the king of Petra, and Herod the Tetrarch had a quarrel on account of the following. Herod the tetrarch had married the daughter of Aretas and had lived with her a great while; but once when he was on his way to Rome he lodged with his half-brother, also named Herod but who had a different mother, the high priest Simon’s daughter. There he fell in love with Herodias, this latter Herod’s wife, who was the daughter of their brother Aristobulus and the sister of Agrippa the Great.