Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist. The martyrdom of John takes place in the sixth chapter of Mark’s Gospel. Our devotion comes from Meditations on the Gospel: According to His Word.
What fearful thoughts must have passed through Herod’s guilty mind! His conscience brought back the memory of those days some months earlier when he had sent out his servants to take the great prophet of the wilderness from the lofty hills and verdant valleys he loved into the dark and dingy dungeon of Herod’s castle Machaerus, east of the Dead Sea. Why? Any Jew and any right-thinking man would have told Herod that it was sinful for him to marry his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias, but only John had dared to tell him the truth. Herod was enough of a man to admire John’s courage. And he might not have done much about it if it hadn’t been for the adulterous woman he had married unlawfully. Herodias held a deep grudge against John and determined to have his life. Still, that was going too far even for an unscrupulous man like Herod, whose conscience told him that, after all, John had done no more than his duty in a manly way. For this, Herod could only respect him, as far as he was capable of such feelings. Although John was his prisoner, Herod sought and, to a certain extent, followed his advice in many things. John was even allowed certain liberties, for we know that his disciples had access to him.
At Herod’s birthday celebration, Herod promised the daughter of Herodias, with an oath, that he would give her whatever she wanted, up to the half of his kingdom. The girl quickly consulted her mother. What should she ask for? Unhesitatingly, the bloodthirsty monster answered, “The head of John the Baptist.”
The executioner got his orders. The man Jesus Himself called the greatest of all the prophets was neither given, nor did he need, any time for preparation. Soon his loyal soul was in the presence of his Lord. The herald met his King.
The executioner delivered the gory head of John to the waiting damsel, and she took it to her mother, that inhuman monster. They had their satisfaction—or did they? Remember, sin brings no joy. Pity the soul that knows no better happiness! But someone present had some sense of justice, some human feeling left, and the message was brought to the disciples of John. With bleeding hearts, they took the remains of their beloved teacher and gave him an honorable burial. So ended the earthly life of one of God’s noblemen.
Devotion is adapted from Meditations on the Gospels: According to His Word, page 288–89 © 2009 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.