The Feast of St. James, Apostle
By Elizabeth Baumann
A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 6:14-29
14 King Herod heard of it, 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.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
17 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. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 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. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 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.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 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.” 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
Recently, I ran across an article that briefly interviewed some Chinese Christians to find out how they prepared for persecution. Their answer, given in one line, has stuck with me: they decided to. Our gospel today is a reminder of the persecution that comes to those who follow Christ and go before him to prepare his way. Jesus even tells us point blank to expect persecution — something most of us have no experience of, and may have a hard time even imagining. But we see John’s example, and Jesus says it, and it has come to pass countless other times since he said it. We would be foolish not to take this seriously, even if, God-willing, we never face the event. How do we prepare? The answer from the article is deceptively simple, but I think it’s exactly right: we decide to.
While faith isn’t something we can manufacture for ourselves — faith is a pure gift of God — it’s a gift that has to be received, not just once, but over and over, daily, with each new circumstance and with most all of our decisions. We have to continually choose to acknowledge God, to ask for his guidance, his help, his clarity and grace. And when it seems like he isn’t answering, or is telling us what we don’t want to hear, to continue to trust, to believe in him is a choice. It would be foolish of us to think that heroic faith arises in the moment of persecution without having been practiced and built in a million smaller moments of refusing to let go of the gift of faith.
Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.
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