The Beheading of John the Baptist

Today’s celebration commemorates the death of John the Baptist, which was in many ways a precursor to the death of Jesus. From the time of their birth, the lives of Jesus and his cousin are closely linked. From the very beginning John paves the way for Jesus. There are similarities about their birth, their work and their death. Yet, as John always insisted, he was just preparing the way for Jesus, the thongs of whose sandals he was not worthy to loosen.

There is a key word in the Gospel which is like a refrain all through it. That is the term ‘handed over’. The Greek word is paradidomi and it means ‘to hand over’. In Latin it becomes tradere, from which we get the words ‘tradition’ (handing on of customs and wisdom of the past) and ‘traitor’ (the treacherous handing over of a person into the hands of another).

The whole of the Scripture is ‘tradition’ in that sense and we use the word ‘traitor’ for people who treacherously betray some good person or good value. The verb ‘hand over’ is used in the Gospel of John the Baptist, of Jesus, and of his most faithful disciples. It was something of which Jesus spoke several times. And it continues to our own day.

Today we remember the ‘handing over’ of John the Baptist into the power of people who were totally against what he stood for and who ultimately executed him.

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