“Herod was the one who had John the Baptist 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. Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him. She had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday, gave a banquet for his courtiers, his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee. Herodias’ own daughter came in and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.” He even swore many things to her, “I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the Baptist.” The girl hurried back to the king’s presence and made her request, “I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was deeply distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her. So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head. He went off and beheaded him in the prison. He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl. The girl in turn gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.” Mark 6:17-29
John the Baptist’s death has gone down in history as one of the great injustices of arrogance and cowardliness. John’s crime? He spoke what was true and right–even to king. As was explained by the evangelist above, John had called Herod’s and Herodias’ action immoral and wrong. He could have remained silent and kept on living, but justice and his own conscience demanded that he speak what he knew to be true–and Jesus himself calls us to the same.
I think too often in our life we want to fit in or go with the flow. We don’t want to make waves, and recently I was told by a dear friend concerned about me, “Steve, just remain quiet! It doesn’t matter if you’re right! The tallest blade of grass is always the first to get cut by the scythe,” she said, quoting a Russian proverb. John the Baptist is certainly testimony to the truth of that proverb! And if our calling was to go with the flow or preserve our life, that would be really good advice, but that is not our calling. People of integrity and truth say what is true and are willing to accept the consequences of their actions. They humbly and courageously speak words out of truth and love that reveal a connection to a deeper source of Grace and love–a relationship with God that inspires honesty, tenacity, courage, and a strong desire to speak on behalf of those who out of fear or inability cannot find their voice.
There are other axioms that hold true and must also be considered as well. One I can think of often comes from a quote close to that of Maggie Kuhn, “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” Jesus taught His disciples that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). Those who live in the center of God’s will as disciples of Jesus Christ are bound to speak the truth in love, and those who DO speak what is true are “speaking Christ,” who is Truth itself. The challenge is to remain humble as one speaks what he or she believes is true, to ensure that one is indeed on the side of truth. We realize that we could be wrong so we are thoughtful, seek the guidance of the Spirit, receive good counsel from others of good will, and remain open to God as we bravely speak–even if our voice shakes. Certainly St. Catherine of Sienna is an example of courage in the face of injustice. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_of_Siena.
For a variety of reasons we too often refrain from what is true because of a very human desire for acceptance by others, a desire for promotion, for money, power, popularity, or under the best of circumstances, just to keep the peace. King Herod today wanted to please his daughter, his wife, and his friends, and in so doing violated His conscience and the law of God. His desire for worldly popularity trumped his call to do God’s work and will. In a word–he failed. No wonder Jesus taught, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (MT 10:37-39) He knew very well that the demands of Christian discipleship are great. If one is seeking friends, money, favor, and power–true, intentional, Christian discipleship is NOT the way to go!
The example of Jesus teaches us that we must stand up against injustice. Jesus calls his disciples to be peace-makers, and yet all throughout the Gospels Jesus confronts injustice, condemns cowardliness, religious hypocrisy, and says He did not come to bring peace but the sword! What are we to make of this seeming contradiction? The U.S. Bishops offer some help here with their teaching, “If want peace, work for Justice.” To be a person committed to justice is to be willing to, out of love for God and neighbor, speak the hard truths as Jesus did. Not because of a desire for reward, or out of fear of punishment, but because what was being said is true and needed to be said to bring TRUTH to light and end injustice. Only then where there be lasting peace.
We are told in our personal, professional, and ministerial life, by people who love us very much, that we should just keep quiet if we want peace. We’re told that the principle doesn’t matter–what matters is our job, our acceptance, our next paycheck, putting a roof over our family’s heads, but I am thoroughly convinced that that sort of appeasement, silence, and cowardliness is antithetical to being a person of integrity, a person of faith, a member of the Body of Christ, and a disciple of Jesus Christ, and will NEVER bring true peace, true joy, and lasting happiness. How, after all, can we ask our sons and daughters to tell the truth, speak up for oneself, and against wrongdoers, and to proclaim the Kingdom of God when our silence in the face of injustice perpetuates a world of violence and pain that is the exact opposite of God’s Kingdom? We cannot. I cannot. Edmund Burke said what Jesus knew well, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Let us always stand along side Peter and the apostles and proclaim from the rooftops without fear, and in perfect love, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).