Biblical Readings for each day's Mass,
(as listed in the Liturgical Calendar for Ireland, 2017)

05 August. Saturday of Week 17

St Mary Major, basilica

1st Reading: Leviticus 25:1, 8-17

Land can never be sold or mortgaged beyond the next Jubilee year

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."

Gospel: Matthew 14:1-12

John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod Antipas, then beheaded at a dancer's request

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.


The peril of dancing-girls

Laughing and boasting, king Herod was on top of the world, suffounded by his wealthy friends celebrating his birthday with him and toasting his success as King of Galilee. As the highlight of the party Salome, Herodias' pretty daughter, came in to do an exotic 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 it to you, even up to half my kingdom." In dire fulfilment of that promise, John the Baptist was beheaded at the girl's request.

Herod is just another in a series of Bible characters who went astray. How great might Samson have become if not for his lust for Delilah? Would David not have left a finer legacy had he not lusted for Bathsheba? Might Solomon's wisdom have laster longer if he avoided listening to his multiple foreign wives, who turned his heart astray? There is an important lesson to ponder: There go I but for the grace of God.

King Herod Antipas comes across as superficial, weak-willed and easily led. While his sister-in-law wanted him to kill John the Baptist for condemning 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 put to death. Herod's reaction to the dancing girl reminds us that we can make very foolish decisions when our defences are down and our prudence is set aside. It also shows how the consequences of sin can long outlive the pleasure of the moment. Herod's birthday is long in the past, but his foolish decision speaks a quiet warning to us to this very day.

A shocking abuse of power

Today we've heard a dramatic example of that abuse of power with which history is peppered. Herod Antipas was ruler in Galilee at the time of Jesus. He was ultimately subject to the emperor in Rome and was Rome puppet's king. He could use his power as he wished, provided it did not bring him into conflict with Rome. The gospel says he used his power to execute an innocent man. People who abuse their power in this way lose their authority. John the Baptist has no power in this scene; he is a prisoner of Herod Antipas. Yet, he has great authority, a moral authority that is rooted in his relationship with God. That gave him the freedom to confront a man of power like Herod for breaking the Jewish law. Because of that exercise of moral authority, John was put in prison 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 tremendous integrity and goodness, the authority, ultimately, of the faithful Son of God, as the centurion recognized. Even if we have little or no power, we can be people of authority in the gospel sense. Like John the Baptist we are called to be people of the word, who hear the word of the Lord and allow it to shape our values, our attitudes, our whole lives. {MH}

Dedication of the Basilica of St Mary Major

This is one of the four major basilicas in Rome. Pope Pius V inserted the feast of its dedication into the General Roman Calendar in 1568 when, in response to the request of the Council of Trent, he reformed the Roman Breviary. Before that, it had been celebrated since the 14th century, in all the churches of the city of Rome.