The Last Prophet’s Last Offering
John the Baptist was born about six months before his cousin, Jesus Christ. We remember the Virgin Mary, who had just conceived the Word of God, hurrying to meet her cousin Elizabeth, who was in the sixth month of her miraculous pregnancy. Elizabeth was considered far too old to conceive a child, but she waited with faith and hope, and the love of the Lord, Who was faithful as He always is. She and Zachariah, her husband, made a promise to God that they would name their child John.
The birth of John the Baptist is commemorated on June 24, and his martyrdom on August 29. John had been sent by the Lord to prepare the way for the Messiah. He is the last prophet before the Birth of Christ. He was actively “preparing the way of the Lord” by baptizing and boldly proclaiming the need for people to repent of their sins. His message was directed to the poor and weak, and the rich and powerful. He dressed in camel’s hair and ate locusts and wild honey, yet people were drawn to his message of repentance and forgiveness, and flocked to him to be baptized. Christ Himself came to John to be baptized, to mark the beginning of His public ministry. Humble, John tried to refuse but did baptize Jesus, and we see here the first “Theophany” — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all present as distinct Persons.
According to St. Mark’s Gospel (6:14-29), John had publicly criticized King Herod for living with his brother’s wife. (This was not Herod the Great, who had tried to kill the infant Jesus, but rather one of his sons.) Herod had John arrested and imprisoned, though he had no definite idea of what to do next. St. Mark tells us that “Herod feared John, knowing him to be a holy and upright man…. When he heard him speak he was very much disturbed, yet he felt the attraction of his words” (Mk 6:20).
Herodias, Herod’s sister-in-law, had no such respect for John. Embarrassed by his speaking out against her living arrangement with Herod, she was determined to have him killed. Her daughter (traditionally known as Salome) performed a dance at Herod’s birthday feast which delighted the king and his guests so much that he publicly promised to grant her anything she wanted, up to half his kingdom. Prompted by her mother, the girl asked for John’s head. Because of his guests, Herod reluctantly agreed, and dispatched the executioner, who beheaded John. When his disciples heard of this, they came and took away the Baptist’s body, and then informed Jesus. Speaking of John, Jesus said, “Among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist” (Mt 11:11).