The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: "You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. The you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month, on the day of atonement, you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.
"In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property. When you make a sale to your neighbour or buy from your neighbour, you shall not cheat one another. When you buy from your neighbour, you shall pay only for the number of years since the jubilee; the seller shall charge you only for the remaining crop years. If the years are more, you shall increase the price, and if the years are fewer, you shall diminish the price; for it is a certain number of harvests that are being sold to you. You shall not cheat one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God."
O God, be gracious and bless us
and let your face shed its light upon us.
So will your ways be known upon earth
and all nations learn your saving help. (R./)
Let the nations be glad and exult
for you rule the world with justice.
With fairness you rule the peoples,
you guide the nations on earth. (R./)
The earth has yielded its fruit for God,
our God, has blessed us.
May God still give us his blessing
till the ends of the earth revere him. (R./)
At that time Herod the ruler heard reports about Jesus; and he said to his servants, "This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him." For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because John had been telling him, "It is not lawful for you to have her." Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet.
But when Herod's birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter." The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given; he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother. His disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus.
Laughing and boasting, king Herod was on top of the world, surrounded by wealthy friends celebrating his birthday and toasting his success as King of Galilee. The highlight of the party was when Salome, Herodias' pretty daughter, came in to do a special dance. Her erotic ballet so pleased Herod that he promised extravagantly, 'Ask for whatever you want, and I will give it to you.' It was a promise that would afterwards haunt him: "I will give you up to half my kingdom." Herod is just another in a series of Bible characters who went astray. How great might Samson have been, without his lust for Delilah? Would David not have left a finer legacy had he not taken another man's wife? Might Solomon's wisdom have laster longer if he did not listen to many foreign wives, who turned his heart astray? There is an important lesson to ponder: There go I but for the grace of God!
Herod comes across as superficial, weak-willed and easily led. While his sister-in-law wanted him to kill John the Baptist for speaking against their affair, Herod revered John as a just and holy man, so he kept him alive, and even listened at times to his message. Only when his defenses were down because of drinking and the girl's exotic dance did Herodias get her way, and John was executed. Herod's reaction to the dancing girl warns against making foolish decisions when defences are down and prudence is silenced. It also shows how the consequences of sin can long outlive the pleasure of the moment. Killing John so haunted Herod that when he heard of Jesus preaching, his first thought was "This is John, whom I beheaded." He was still thinking about John and feeling guilty! Herod's birthday is long in the past, but his promise speaks a quiet warning to us to this very day.
Today we have seen a dramatic example of that abuse of power with which history is peppered. Herod Antipas was ruler in Galilee at the time of Jesus. Although ultimately subject to the emperor in Rome he could use his local power as he wished, subject to the laws of Rome. In the case of John the Baptist, Herod abused his power to execute an innocent man. People who abuse their power in this way lose their authority. The Baptist has no power in this scene; he is a prisoner of Herod Antipas. But he has greater authority, that is rooted in his relationship with God. That gave John the freedom to speak the truth to power and confront king Herod for breaking the Jewish law. Because of that exercise of moral authority, John was imprisoned and eventually executed.
John the Baptist foreshadows Jesus. As Jesus hung from the cross he too had no power. As Paul says, "he was crucified in weakness." Yet at that moment he had great authority, the authority of a life of integrity and goodness, the authority, ultimately, of the faithful Son of God. This, remarkably, was recognized by the centurion in charge of the crucifixion. Even if we have little or no power, we can have authority in the gospel sense. Like John the Baptist we are called to be people of the word, who let God shape our values, our attitudes, our whole lives.