Friday, July 29, 2005



JULY 30, 2005

LEVITICUS 25:1, 8-17
The LORD said to Moses on Mount Sinai, "Seven weeks of years shall you
count-seven times seven years- so that the seven cycles amount to
forty-nine years. Then, on the tenth day of the seventh month, let the
trumpet resound; on this, the Day of Atonement, the trumpet blast shall
re-echo throughout your land. This fiftieth year you shall make sacred
by proclaiming liberty in the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be
a jubilee for you, when every one of you shall return to his own
property, every one to his own family estate. In this fiftieth
year, your year of jubilee, you shall not sow, nor shall you reap the
aftergrowth or pick the grapes from the untrimmed vines. Since this is
the jubilee, which shall be sacred for you, you may not eat of its
produce, except as taken directly from the field. "In this year of
jubilee, then, every one of you shall return to his own property.
Therefore, when you sell any land to your neighbor or buy any from him,
do not deal unfairly. On the basis of the number of years since the
last jubilee shall you purchase the land from your neighbor; and
so also, on the basis of the number of years for crops, shall he sell
it to you. When the years are many, the price shall be so much the
more; when the years are few, the price shall be so much the less. For
it is really the number of crops that he sells you. Do not deal
unfairly, then; but stand in fear of your God. I, the LORD, am your

MATTHEW 14:1-12
Herod the tetrarch heard of the reputation of Jesus and said to his
servants, "This man is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the
dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him." Now Herod had
arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias,
the wife of his brother Philip, for John had said to him, "It is not
lawful for you to have her." Although he wanted to kill him, he feared
the people, for they regarded him as a prophet. But at a birthday
celebration for Herod, the daughter of Herodias performed a dance
before the guests and delighted Herod so much that he swore to give her
whatever she might ask for. Prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me
here on a platter the head of John the Baptist." The king was
distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests who were present,
he ordered that it be given, and he had John beheaded in the prison.
His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who took it
to her mother. His disciples came and took away the corpse and buried
him; and they went and told Jesus.

The story of the death of John the Baptist is full of human interest.
We can be fascinated by the dramatic story of the dance of Herodias'
daughter and Herod's foolish oath and the request of the girl to have
John the Baptist's head on a platter. The background to the story is
that Herod had married his brother's wife. In doing so, from the
viewpoint of the Jewish law, he committed two crimes. The first was
that he divorced his first wife without good reason. The second was
that he married his sister-in-law, which was a prohibited relationship.
John fearlessly criticized the king for his behavior and so was thrown
into prison. The reasons for Herod's conduct are complex. Maybe, he
disliked John because at heart he knew that what John said was right.
We do not like to be told that something that we are doing is wrong,
especially if we are trying to deceive ourselves that what we are doing
is all right. Herod knew that John was a holy man and did not want to
execute him, but he was not prepared to admit his guilt. As Jesus says
to Nicodemus, "Everyone who does evil, hates the light, and does not
come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed."

In reality, Herod was a weak man rather than a truly evil man. He could
not resist the temptation of taking his brother's wife and punished
John for telling the truth. He made a foolish oath when intoxicated by
the girl's dancing and did not want to go back on it when he heard what
she wanted. It would have been better to break his foolish promise than
to commit such a crime, but Herod was too afraid of what his guests
might think if he did not keep his promise. He did not want to lose
face. It is easy for us to be swayed by the opinions of others into
doing what we know at heart is not the right thing to do.

John paid the price for speaking the truth without fear. This is
something that we are all called to do, though probably in less
dramatic ways. We should speak up against injustice and wrongdoing
wherever we see it, even if this earns us hostility and unpopularity.
In this we are imitating not only John the Baptist but also Jesus
himself, who was put to death for speaking the truth; and we can be
sure that Jesus will be with us as we try to his ambassadors in a world
that is often hostile to Christian values.

"Lord, give me a strong conscience that I may recognize evil for what
it is and repent for all the ways in which I may offend you. Help me
to choose what is good and to reject what is contrary to your will.
And help me to strive for holiness that I may please you in all
things (Hebrews 12:14)."

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