Cost of speaking truth to power: Beheading of John the Baptist

One of the reasons the Bible rings true is that all human life is there: the good, the bad, the ugly and the really horrible. It provides a mirror to humanity at its best, worst and even plain ordinary. It does much more, but that's for other posts.

Today is the 'lesser festival' of 'The Beheading of John the Baptist'. It commemorates a truly horrible and sordid story. Caravaggio's painting shown here is one of the less gory depictions of the scene.

I wrote about this story from the angle of the women involved over on the Bible Bible Project in 'Women Behaving Badly' and on this blog here. Today I'm thinking about the courage it took for John to fulfill God's call with passion for truth and justice. He was no crowd pleaser among those who held power.

John the Baptist's beheading is recorded in the gospels in Matthew 14: 1 - 12 and Mark 6: 1 - 29. what had John, son of Elizabeth and Zechariah done to deserve such a death and to have his head presented on a plate at a dinner party? He spoke out for truth, called people to turn from corrupt and evil ways and turn back to God. He prepared the way for Jesus' ministry and pointed to him as 'the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world'.

Those who like John the Baptist courageously work for what is right and speak truth to power often find the cost is persecution of one sort or another and many are killed because of this. I think of the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Archbishop Romero among many others. To call people to repent and change their ways is mortally risky business.

I love this poem about John the Baptist by 17th century Scottish poet William Drummond:

The last and greatest herald of heaven's king.
Girt with rough skins, hies to the desert wild.
Among that savage brood the woods forth bring
which he than man more harmless found and wild. 
His food was locusts and what young doth spring.
With honey that from virgin hives distilled;
parched body, hollow eyes, some uncouth thing
made him appear long since from earth exiled. 
There burst he forth: "All ye, whose hopes rely
On God, with me admist these deserts mourn:
Repent, repent, and from old errors turn."
Who listened to his voice, obeyed his cry? 
Only the echoes which he made relent.
Rung from their marble caves, Repent, repent.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons


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