February 4, 2011 - Friday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s Gospel reading, after the first few lines, is the only one that could be entirely removed without eliminating the smallest fact about Jesus.  After those first lines, Mark continues with a story which is an anomaly: the only Gospel story completely unrelated to Jesus. It is a very interesting story, captures the imagination, but, still, why put it in the middle of the Gospel rather than in some book full of interesting stories?

This story seems to be more about us Christians than about Jesus. Our interpretation of it ought to be guided by the first reading and the psalm today. Hebrews reminds us: “The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” Put you in prison and cut off your head, evidently. “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The LORD is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?” Dancing girls, it seems.

John the Baptist was as good as they come. There is a reason that he is honored after Mary as the second greatest Saint. The Gospels never record him doing anything wrong. He was so humble he did not consider himself worthy to untie Jesus’ shoes, but he was judged worthy to baptize Jesus. His only crime was being the only man willing to stand up to the king, speaking truth to power. If John the Baptist was not protected by God, what meaning do these words have? Thus we have the problem of today’s Gospel. Why bad things happen to good people, or more exactly, “Why does God keep implying that they do not?

Here we must remember that John is doing very well right now. He is in heaven with a front row seat. We must remember that God has not promised us that we and all our loved ones will all die at 99 years old after a life of perfect health and moderate wealth.  He has promised something better. “What can anyone do to me” that, in the long run, will matter at all?  Heaven will be wonderful. When we have been there 10,000 years, the few decades of this life and how they ended will seem important only to the extent that God was glorified, whether by our pleasure or suffering, our life or death. Of what could we possibly be afraid?