John the Baptist does not shout the truth in Herod's face to provoke him or to force him to kill him, but as an extreme act of goodness toward him.
Today’s readings can be found here.
The chronicle of John the Baptist’s death, as reported to us in Matthew’s Gospel, is not only an account of the violence of the powerful but also a lesson for the present times. Indeed, John pays for his parresia, the courage to call things by their name:
“Now Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, for John had said to him, ‘It is not lawful for you to have her.’”
It must be said, however, that John does not shout the truth in Herod’s face to provoke him or to force him to kill him, but as an extreme act of goodness toward him. Telling the truth is a way of loving the other person. And we know this for certain because Herod does not welcome the compulsion to behead John:
“At a birthday celebration for Herod, the daughter of Herodias performed a dance before the guests and delighted Herod so much that he swore to give her whatever she might ask for. Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.’ The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests who were present, he ordered that it be given, and he had John beheaded in the prison.”
Why is Herod “distressed” by the death of someone who publicly accused him? Perhaps because he knew in his heart that John was right, and in a world where everyone wants to use you or please you, it’s a miracle to find someone who will tell it like it really is.
I like to think that the proclamation of the truth of the Gospel is like that of John the Baptist: a way of loving and not accusing, a way of doing good and not simply provoking. By contrast, I’m very wary of those who exalt themselves by proclaiming the truth and thinking that just saying it makes them better than others.
They should be reminded that even the devil can speak the Truth, but does so for the opposite reason to John’s: he accuses in order to condemn, and does not announce in order to save.
Father Luigi Maria Epicoco is a priest of the Aquila Diocese and teaches Philosophy at the Pontifical Lateran University and at the ISSR ‘Fides et ratio,’ Aquila. He dedicates himself to preaching, especially for the formation of laity and religious, giving conferences, retreats and days of recollection. He has authored numerous books and articles. Since 2021, he has served as the Ecclesiastical Assistant in the Vatican Dicastery for Communication and columnist for the Vatican’s daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.