Tag Archives: Saint John the Baptist

The Passion of Saint John the Baptist

August 28, 2020


Beheading of Saint John the Baptist depicted in the Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension, the Chapel of the Finding of the Head of St. John the Baptist, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, Israel.

Beheading of Saint John the Baptist depicted in the Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension, the Chapel of the Finding of the Head of St. John the Baptist, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, Israel.

August 29 is the memorial of The Passion of Saint John the Baptist.  It was known formerly as The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.

Annual Memorial.  This memorial in honor of the Baptist began in the Fourth Century AD at the dedication of the Church of St. John at Sebaste in Samaria, Israel, where, according to tradition, John’s skull had been buried by his disciples.  This commemoration gradually spread to the universal church, first to the East in the Fifth Century and to Rome by the Seventh Century.

The Historical Event.  The account of the Baptist’s passion is given in two of the four gospels, the original version in Mk 6:17-29, and an edited and shortened account in Mt 14:3-12.  Biblical historians believe that the beheading of John took place at Machaerus, a fort in the desert on the east side of the Dead Sea in modern-day Jordan.  It had been built by King Herod the Great as a desert hideaway, and his son, King Herod Antipas, went there occasionally.

Foreshadowing.  John the Baptist is the forerunner or precursor.  John went ahead of Jesus with his miraculous birth and his unique role as prophet, preacher, and baptizer.  These set the stage for Jesus’ own miraculous birth, as well as his baptism and his ministry as prophet and teacher.  John the Baptist’s suffering and death prefigures Jesus’ suffering and death, and the details in the account of the passion of John anticipate the Passion of Jesus.  Specific similarities include:  John spoke the truth, Jesus is truth; it was the festive occasion of a birthday, it was the festive occasion of Passover; Herodias bitterly opposed John, the religious leaders bitterly opposed Jesus; John was arrested and bound, Jesus was arrested and bound; Herod declared John innocent, Pilate declared Jesus innocent; John was held in a prison cell in Machaerus, Jesus was held in a prison cell below Caiaphas’ palace; Herod tried to please his wife, Pilate attempted to please the crowds; Herod condemned John, Pilate condemned Jesus; Roman soldiers put John to death by beheading, Roman soldiers put Jesus to death by crucifixion; John’s disciples took his body and laid it in a tomb, and Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus and laid it in a tomb.

Larger Gospel Context.  Mark carefully placed the account of the Baptist’s death between two sections on the missionary work of the first apostles.  In Mark 6:7-13 Jesus sends the Twelve out two by two, and in Mark 6:30-33 the apostles return to Jesus to report what they have done.  Mark wants to show that it requires tremendous courage to speak the truth and proclaim the gospel, and that it will lead to bitter suffering.

Gospel Preview.  The Cross is not mentioned explicitly in the Baptist’s passion account, but it is Mark’s underlying mindset.  The death of John is a preview of the death of Jesus, and for John his beheading was his cross.  Everyone who is a disciple must carry their cross.

Spiritual Applications.  The Baptist had a number of outstanding spiritual qualities.   He was a fierce advocate for truth and justice, fought hard for what is right, demonstrated his faith in a very public manner, walked in straight paths and urged others to do likewise, directed attention away from himself to Jesus, had a humble estimation of himself, and endured the suffering that came his way.  These admirable traits serve as inspiration and guidance for our spiritual lives.


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St. John the Baptist: The Forerunner Prophet

December 6, 2019


The Baptist’s Featured Role in Advent. St. John the Baptist plays a prominent role in the Scripture readings during the Advent Season as the Church prepares for the celebration of Christmas. He is not mentioned on the First and Fourth Sundays of Advent, but he is a major figure on the Second and Third. While Jesus is always the main focus of the gospel, during the middle of Advent St. John the Baptist serves as the main supporting character.

Christ has come, Christ is here, Christ will come again. During Advent the Church reflects on the triple comings of Jesus: his original coming on the first Christmas, his coming today, and his final coming either at the end of our lives or at the Second Coming. John the Baptist is the one who announced his coming. God said, “Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me. Lo, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the day of the Lord comes” (Mal 3:1,23). Jesus explained that Elijah had come in the form of John the Baptist (Mt 17:12-13). The Baptist is the precursor, the forerunner, the one who goes ahead, the herald’s voice.

John the Baptist A Prophet Like No Other. John the Baptist is the intertestamental prophet, the prophet who bridges the Old and New Testaments. There are many great prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, prophets like Elijah and Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, but Jesus said “there has been none greater than John the Baptist” (Mt 11:11). The Baptist is the greatest of the prophets for a reason. The prophets of long ago did remote preparation, the Baptist did immediate preparation. The earlier prophets announced that the Messiah was coming, the Baptist announced that the Messiah was here, and when Jesus did appear, the Baptist pointed to him and identified him as such, “Behold, the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29,36).

A Prophetic Appearance. John the Baptist had a striking appearance. He wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist (Mt 3:4). His unusual garb links him directly to Elijah, the only Old Testament prophet to dress in this way (2 Kgs 1:8).

A Prophetic Message. The theme of the Baptist’s preaching was, “Reform your lives!” He challenged his listeners to straighten out the crooked parts of their lives, to tear down the mountains of their evildoing, and to fill in the valleys of their shortcomings. He warned them, “Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees” (Mt 3:10), a powerful metaphor in which the tree represents the unproductive sinner and the ax represents impending judgment. Now is the time to produce good works. Act swiftly to avoid being cut down and thrown into the fire. The Baptist urged the people to confess their sins and receive a baptism of repentance. The way to prepare for the coming of the Lord is to stop sinning and live a more virtuous life.

A Prophetic Attitude. The Baptist avoided a great temptation. The voice of prophecy in Israel had been silent for hundreds of years, and the people went in droves out to the desert to hear him. With such a surge in popularity, he could have reveled in all of the attention, but he resisted the natural inclination to let the focus be on him. The Baptist humbly redirected the peoples’ attention from himself to Jesus: “the one who is coming after me is mightier than I” (Mt 3:11); “I am not fit to loosen his sandal strap” (Lk 3:16); “I am not the Messiah” (Jn 1:20); and “He [Jesus] must increase; I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).

A Message Ever-Old and Ever-New. The Baptist’s prophetic message is applicable to our spiritual preparation for Christmas. Advent is a time to prepare the way of the Lord, to clear away every obstacle that would prevent Jesus from coming to us, so that when Jesus comes to us today and on Christmas, he will have unimpeded access to our hearts. The Baptist wanted his listeners to renounce sin, be washed of their past impurities, and be in the state of grace when Jesus appeared. Likewise, if we wish to be well-prepared for the solemn feast of Christmas, we would be wise to renounce our own sin, to confess them in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to be washed of our impurities through sacramental absolution, to do go works, and to be in the state of grace when Jesus comes today, on Christmas, and our last day. Let us humbly keep Jesus as the main focus of Advent, Christmas, and every day of our lives.

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