Today, the Church celebrates the martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist. Here's the story in a nutshell. Herod Antipas was appointed by the Roman Caesar, Caesar Augustus, to rule the Roman controlled state of Galilee in 4 B.C. He eventually married Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip ... who o' by the way was still alive. The core message of Saint John the Baptist's preaching was repentance. John boldly reprimanded Herod Antipas and Herodias for their scandalous adultery and marriage. In anger, Herod threw John into prison. About a year after John was thrown in prison, Herod threw a gala for the high and mighty of Galilee. Salome, the daughter of Herodias and Herod Antipas' brother Philip, tantalized Herod by her dancing. Driven with lust, Herod gives her permission to ask for whatever she wanted. Salome and Herodias, who hate John the Baptist because of his stinging preaching, ask Herod for the death of John the Baptist. John was martyred in 30 A.D.
Today's story is an interesting one to unpack, but so too are Christmas greeting cards. There is a difference between America's "Christmas" season (Black Friday through Christmas Eve) and celebrating the birth of Christ. Greeting cards lure us into believing that Christmas is about "Peace", "Joy", and "Good will toward all".
On the other hand, 2,000 years ago ... days and weeks before Christmas ... there was a real person named Mary and a real person named Joseph. They weren't preparing for "Peace", "Joy", and "Good will toward all" ... they were preparing for a person ― for the Messiah. There was a real person in Mary's womb ― and his name was Jesus.
11 days ago, on Sunday, August 18, 2013 you went to church on Sunday. There you heard the Gospel from Luke, chapter 12. We heard this: "Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?" No. Jesus said: "No."
What? Believe it or not ... Jesus said: "No."
Jesus said this: stop buying the Christmas cards that reduce Him to a nice guy who wants everybody to get along. Yes, of course, Jesus wants peace, but not the kind of peace America's "Christmas" season is offering. What did Jesus say He wants? "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!"
Jesus yearns you to be free. Jesus will do anything ― I mean anything ― for you and I to live in communion with the Trinity. Precisely because he loves you, Jesus rejects the notion that he has come to "establish peace" because he knows that peace is often confused with pacifism. Jesus cannot redeem us through pacifism. He must stay rooted in the truth. Far too often peace is mistaken for pacifism. We don’t want to upset the status quo, for doing so would unleash insurmountable attacks. So, we mistake "peace" with lack of conflict, while underneath the pacifism there remains grave injustice, deep unrest, or fear-filled unforgiveness. It is at work and at school. It is at home and in our extended families. It is in Washington and in the media. We just want everyone to "get along."
However, pacifism rejects Truth in order to assure that no one is offended. Jesus, on the other hand, always proclaims the Truth ― always ― I mean always. Thus, his causing "division" isn’t for division’s sake, but for the sake of the Truth. And ... we need today's story because of our boxes.
Many of us have a box for God. We compartmentalize our lives —"this is my family box, this is my work box, this is my God box." Nice and neat, each aspect of our life is compartmentalized. Yet, Jesus has come for us—for all of us and all of our compartmentalized categories of life. Compartmentalized boxes keep life neat. Boxes give us a false permission to remain silent—we don’t have to struggle, we don’t have to challenge. There is no drama, no tension, no upset. However, love—the kind of love that changes the world—doesn’t live in a box. Love is a person whose name is Jesus Christ. And, when you and I fall in love with Jesus, we will do anything for him. We will even surrender our boxes, being silent no more.
Here's the point: at some point in your life you will face the consequences of discipleship. The real question is how will you respond? Just as Jesus never denied the truth of who He was, we too must never deny the Truth of who God is. If we refuse to pacify, step outside our boxes, and refuse to be silent, we will be confronted by the world—we too will face the cross. When you and I feel the consequences, remember this — "If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first" (John 15:18). That's why John was martyred ... that's why he was beheaded.
Today we celebrate the life, and death, of man who longed for God to be known ... even if it meant no longer pacifying the leader of his country.
When you are confronted with the resistance of our culture — whether at home, or at work, or in the grocery store — remember this, Jesus wants you totally and wants us to love him totally. In tense moments where you refuse to pacify, focus on Jesus. Listen to his voice. When you feel the consequences, go within just like we talked about yesterday.
God is with you ... at all times ... even in the temptation to pacify.
FR. ROBERT BARRON AND "THE LIMITS OF TOLERANCE"