Category Archives: John the Baptist

Hanging out with Jesus

In today’s Gospel (John 1: 35-42), John the Baptist points out Jesus to two of his disciples. They follow after Jesus who, at some point, turns around, sees them, and asks them, “What are you looking for?” They respond with a question, “Where are you staying?” Jesus responds, “Come and see.” They go where he is staying and stay with him.

I don’t think that these two disciples aren’t looking for a doctrine, a series of teachings. They are looking for someone to hang out with who will make sense of life, who will respond to their dreams and hopes. They are looking for that personal connection – in community – with a person who is full of Life and Love.

They hang out with Jesus and then Andrew invites his brother Simon to join them. Hanging out with Jesus has led Andrew to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, God’s anointed one and he has to share it.

Where are you hanging out, Jesus? Where do I encounter you?

Am I open to following behind you and then spending time with you?

For me, an important part of hanging out with Jesus is setting aside time in the morning for prayer and quiet – praying some psalms and meditating on the daily readings.

But I also think that spending time with the people around me, especially the poor, may be another way to hang out with Jesus.

I don’t think my mission is merely a question of doing things for the poor. Rather, first of all it’s being with them, with those I encounter every day.

It’s not without significance that here I occasionally encounter people named Jesús – both men and women. Last week, Jesús stopped by my house to give me six patastes, a vegetable that abounds here (like zucchini in the US). We talked a bit and he left.

I don’t think I was aware as I could have been of how in this encounter I had a chance to hang out with Jesus – not only in times of prayer, but also in times of visiting with others.

“Come and see,” Jesus told the two disciples.

I’m here, but do I always see? And do I let myself hang out with Jesus and Jesús?

John’s head on a platter

In the Gospel account of the death of John the Baptist (Mark 6: 14-29), there is one element that has puzzled me for many years.

The daughter of Herodias dances for Herod’s birthday party. He offers her anything she wants. A dutiful daughter, she asks her mother who tells her “the head of John the Baptist.”

Baptistry door, Florence

Baptistry door, Florence

When the young girl returns to Herod’s birthday party, she asks for John’s head “on a platter.”

Why a platter?

That’s a macabre image, a bloody dessert. I’ve never read an adequate explanation of why she doesn’t just ask for John the Baptist’s head, as her mother had told her, but adds “on a platter.”

Maybe she didn’t want her hands bloodied and so sought a platter to collect the blood.

Do we also cooperate in the death and suffering of others but want a dessert – without the blood?

Do we want to avoid getting our hands bloody, but still want to enjoy the benefits of the death of those who prick our consciences?

We need, as Albert Camus noted, “to confront the blood-stained face that history has taken on today.”

Without the platter.

Losing your head

Call me a bit odd but today’s feast, the Beheading of St. John the Baptist is one of my favorites.

 

It does help that my name is John – but losing one’s head?

More than two decades ago at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames we did a skit at Thursday Night Liturgy where I lost my head.

johnTNLhead001

The tale as told in the Gospels is intriguing. John is in prison for criticizing Herod’s taking Herodias for his wife. But Herod is still awed by John and likes to listen to him.

The prophet is dangerous, but still it’s fun listening to him.

At Herod’s birthday party, the daughter of his consort dances. Herod offers her anything. Salome goes to her mother for advice.

“The head of John the Baptist,” cries the offended consort.

The child returns and asks for “the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

I’d love to know why she adds the platter. Does she not want to get her hands bloodied with John’s head? On does she see this as just a play, and this is the perfect ending for a banquet?

Whatever it is, John is beheaded. His disciples take away his body.

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John is a prop in this drama. His active role was before – baptizing in the Jordan, preparing the way for Jesus, sending his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the one who is to come.

But John is someone to be reckoned with.

His message is clear – prepare the Lord’s way. Change what needs to happen, whether it be your relations to others or your relation to God. He had no qualms confronting the leaders of his day – religious or political. But it was all in terms of his willingness to give his all – even his head.

He lost his head in service of God.

Am I willing to lose mine?

 

prophets like John the Baptist

ChartresBaptist001

St. John, Chartres Cathedral

Today is the feast of the birthday of St. John the Baptist, one of only three births that the Catholic Church celebrates (the others being Christmas and Mary’s Nativity).

One of my favorite meditations on the Baptist was written in a Nazi prison by Jesuit Father Alfred Delp, as one of his Advent and Christmas meditations, in 1944.

He poignantly calls for real prophets like John for every age:

…where are the voices that should ring out in protest and accusation? There should never be any lack of prophets like John the Baptist in the kaleidoscope of life at any period; brave [people] inspired by the dynamic compulsion of the mission to which they are dedicated, true witnesses following the lead of their hearts and endowed with clear vision and unerring judgment.… Such [people] proclaim the message of healing and salvation. They warn [people] of [their] chance, because they already feel the ground heaving beneath their feet, feel the beams cracking and the great mountains shuddering inwardly and the stars swinging in space. They cry out to [people], urging [them] to save [themselves] by a change of heart before the coming of the catastrophes threatening to overwhelm [them].

In the midst of crisis we need such people who quietly are lights to the nations, proclaiming a message of conversion and love, as did St. John.

Aside

Give me the head of John the Baptist on a platter. (Mark 6:25) John lost his head because he spoke up to those in power. He offended Herodias because she condemned Herod’s taking her from his brother. I’m in Florence … Continue reading