The Heartbreak of John the Baptist

In today’s gospel we heard the well known account of the beheading of John the Baptist. I have to admit, I wonder if John should have played the long game. He didn’t need to call out King Herod. It is not as though Herod was popular with Jewish people. He was thought to be Jewish in name only as he was of Idumaean ancestry, a conquered people forced to convert to Judaism in order to keep their status and wealth. While Herod publicly identified himself as a Jew, this religious identification was undermined by his decadent lifestyle which earned him the antipathy of observant Jews.

Yes, Herod has married his brother’s wife after a divorce, a violation of Jewish religious law. But it is not as though people looked to Herod as the model of the faith. He wasn’t even Jewish, just a Roman puppet ruler. Was this the time to go “all in?”

And maybe that is the problem I have. I will back down on many topics, or at least ease off, to keep the dialogue going, to find a way through the conflict. Not John the Baptist. He won’t back down. It brought to mind a classic rock song by Tom Petty*

Well, I won’t back down…you can stand me up at the gates of hell, but I won’t back down. No, I’ll stand my ground, won’t be turned around, and I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down. Gonna stand my ground…there ain’t no easy way out…I will stand my ground and I won’t back down…I know what’s right, I got just one life

It isn’t great poetry or prose, but it captures John the Baptist’s spirit and passion for the Word of God. And John the Baptist understood one thing: he had just one life and was willing to be all in for God.

May we be as aflame in passion for the mission and ministries of Jesus Christ given to us.


* Songwriters: Jeff Lynne / Tom Petty; I Won’t Back Down © Gone Gator Music, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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