As the fat is set apart from the offering of well-being,
so David was set apart from the Israelites.
He played with lions as though they were young goats,
and with bears as though they were lambs of the flock.
In his youth did he not kill a giant,
and take away the people's disgrace,
when he whirled the stone in the sling
and struck down the boasting Goliath?
For he called on the Lord, the Most High,
and he gave strength to his right arm
to strike down a mighty warrior,
and to exalt the power of his people.
So they glorified him for the tens of thousands he conquered,
and praised him for the blessings bestowed by the Lord,
when the glorious diadem was given to him.
For he wiped out his enemies on every side,
and annihilated his adversaries the Philistines;
he crushed their power to our own day.
In all that he did he gave thanks
to the Holy One, the Most High, proclaiming his glory;
he sang praise with all his heart,
and he loved his Maker.
He placed singers before the altar,
to make sweet melody with their voices.
He gave beauty to the festivals,
and arranged their times throughout the year,
while they praised God's holy name,
and the sanctuary resounded from early morning.
The Lord took away his sins,
and exalted his power forever;
he gave him a covenant of kingship
and a glorious throne in Israel.
The ways of God are perfect;
the word of the Lord, purest gold.
He indeed is the shield
of all who make him their refuge. (R./)
Long life to the Lord, my rock!
Praised be the God who saves me.
I will praise you, Lord, among the nations:
I will sing a psalm to your name. (R./)
He has given great victories to his king
and shown his love for his anointed,
for David and his sons for ever. (R./)
King Herod heard of him, for Jesus' name had become known. Some were saying, "John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him." But others said, "It is Elijah." And others said, "It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." But when Herod heard of it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised."
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because Herod had married her. For John had told Herod: "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it." And he solemnly swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom." She went out and said to her mother, "What should I ask for?" She replied, "The head of John the baptizer." Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." The king was deeply grieed; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
The Word of God for today honours two great precursors of Jesus, John the Baptist (in the gospel,) and king David (in the text from Sirach.) Sirach's praise of David indicates the suportive presence of God through his long career, from when he battled the Philistine giant as a youth, and later as king widened the borders of Israel and overcame all opposition, and how after his sin he repented humbly and publicly. It recalls how David sang before the altar, with the sweet melody of his psalms. God was ever-present, as helper, giver of pardon, inspirer of ideals, enabling the fulfillment of the divine will in David's life.
That benign view of providence is in stark contrast to the execution of John the Baptist, when the daughter presented her mother with her enemy's head on a platter. No wonder the memory of John haunted the sleep of King Herod, so that he imagined Jesus as John raised from the dead. We believe that John was not extinguished in the sight of God, but alive in Jesus who "is the same yesterday, today and forever."
Jesus is present among the marginalised and suffering people of the world. He can be found in situations of need, narrow and seemingly hopeless, like the prison where the baptist was chained, and among the most needy in our midst. Even in our own personal lives, we may have entertained God's presence unaware.
This execution has inspired artists and playwrights throughout the centuries. The sumptuous banquet in Herod's palace for his birthday became a banquet of death. Mark follows this scene with the feeding by Jesus of the multitude in the wilderness. It is as if the evangelist wants us to contrast Herod's banquet of death with Jesus' banquet of life. John the Baptist was a good and holy man, who courageously spoke God's truth, for which he was made to suffer.
Jesus was crucified for the same reason, for speaking God's truth without fear.
Our own lives will call for sacrifice at times, the kind of courage shown by John and Jesus. One of the seven named gifts of the Holy Spirit is courage. Today, more than ever, we need the courage of the Holy Spirit to witness to live by the values of Jesus. A courageous faith is not arrogant, but it is firm and enduring. We pray for the kind of faithfulness that shaped John's life and death.