August 29th is the feast day which celebrates the beheading of John the Baptist.
John the Baptist is the last prophet proclaiming the coming of the Lord. We actually meet John when Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” ( Luke1: 39) John was actually about six months older than his cousin Jesus.
The next time we hear of John the Baptist he comes out of the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. He proclaimed “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”(Matthew 3: 11)
In Matthew 3: 13 Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” After he had been baptized, the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
We learn in Mark 1:14 that it is after the arrest of John the Baptist by King Herod, that Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.”
Why was John arrested? The story is told in Mark 6: 17-29. John was arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married. John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Herodias harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so because Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. On Herod’s birthday Herodias’ own daughter came in and performed a dance that so delighted Herod and his guests that Herod promised her whatever she requested. She went to her mother asking “What shall I ask for?” Herodias replied, “The head of John the Baptist.” The girl hurried back to King Herod saying “I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist,.” King Herod was distressed at the request, but because of his oaths in front of guest he did not wish to break his word to her. So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back John the Baptists’ head. The head, on a silver platter, was given to the girl. In turn the girl gave it to her mother.
When the disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
John the Baptist is most remembered for his call to repentance and baptism. One of his last statements was “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Today is a day to reflect on how we need to repent in our lives. We need to remember that none of us knows when our last day will be. Am I ready for judgment day?