Friday, 13 July 2012

Beheading of John the Baptist

It was certainly lonely in prison.
Not even the desert prepared you for the utter loneliness of being a prisoner in solitary confinement.
But one had to learn the value of being content in all situations, the value of trust.
This would be the final chapter.
A dark, comfortless cell and no way of knowing how long it would be before execution.
Of course occasionally there were the talks with Herod – that old fox.
For all his rottenness, he seemed to want to know about the Messiah, and so he, John, would testify to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
He’d had his moments of doubt as well, despite being the famous baptizer.
The long dark days did that to you.
In the loneliness and fear, was Jesus the Messiah after all?
There were still a few faithful disciples: they came one day, found him very low.
If only we could be sure, once and for all…
Was Jesus The One?
Best to ask Him outright… ‘are you the Messiah, or are we to wait for someone else?’
The answer had come back straight away: ‘What do you see? The sick are healed, the dead raised and good news is preached to the poor.’
So he had to be content…content that despite the dripping walls, the stench, the hard floor and the sleepless nights, The Messiah was doing God’s work, the work for which he, John, had been called to prepare the way.
He must become greater while I become less.

The fire had always burned within.
The life of a desert hermit just made it hotter.
The fire to burn and purify.
Lord, purify a people for your own possession.
Cleanse us of our sin, come and dwell within us and make us ready for Jesus.
This had been his lifelong prayer; not just a prayer – a way of life.
An unremitting sign pointing to The Messiah, that precious gift of God Almighty.
It was the life of witness, even unto death; the only way to live.
And of course it had got him into trouble with the powerful ones…

Herod’s life was a cesspit.
He’d married his brother’s wife whilst his brother still lived.
It was against God’s law and he knew it.
His conscience troubled him.
His wife troubled him with her incessant hatred of John.
‘That man must be silenced’, she said.
‘Sticking his nose in where it’s not wanted. What right has he?’
It wasn’t difficult to have John arrested. He was just a trouble maker really.
A bit precipitant perhaps, to have him killed straight away.
He could live in the cell.
And besides, it was…interesting to hear him talk about God Almighty, God the all powerful.
A pet prophet in one’s own cellar.
But that woman, she nagged, she begged to have John done away with.
And her daughter too…
What a beautiful young thing…she danced, she sang…
Best not to think about her too much...captivating…
Perhaps I will see her body swaying to the music again...soon…she must dance at the party…

Footsteps approach the cell.
The clank of a key in the lock.
Is it now, Lord?
The time of hard testing, the time of departure, the time of martyrdom?

‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
For he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty Saviour,
Born of the house of his servant, David.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old,
That he would save us from our enemies,
From the hands of all that hate us,
He promised to show mercy to our forbears
And to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
To set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship him without fear,
Holy and righteous in his sight,
All the days of our life.
You, my child
Shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
For you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation,
By the forgiveness of all their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God,
The dawn from on high shall break upon us,                                          
To shine on those who dwell in darkness
And the shadow of death,
And to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

Lord, it's now...

‘As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears the baby in my womb leapt for joy.’

‘Lord, into your hands I commit my spirit.’


But I had John beheaded!
This Jesus, this man they call Messiah, is it not John the Baptist come back to life?
How else can he do so many miraculous deeds?
It must be John…
Will that man ever stop haunting me?
That woman I took made me have him killed; his blood is on her hands, and the hands of her daughter.
I wanted him to live…
But in the end there was no choice…the party, the audience…the oaths…the shame…
I knew she’d be trouble…too beautiful by half; and the daughter too…calamity…
That rash promise; it must have been the wine, and the body of the girl…
The dreams never go; they brought him in on a... platter; the blood; the innocence.
Where was the God of the Baptizer on that day?


‘With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.’ (Eph. 1: 8b-10).

Let us pray.
Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Saviour by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth's sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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