31 July/ Saturday, 17th Week in Ordinary Time/ Saint Ignatius Loyola, Priest
Lev 25,1.8-17/Psa 67,2-3.5.7-8/Matt 14,1-12
By Most Rev. Emmanuel Kofi Fianu, SVD
First Reading Leviticus 25:1,8-17
The law of the jubilee year
The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai. He said: ‘You are to count seven weeks of years – seven times seven years, that is to say a period of seven weeks of years, forty-nine years. And on the tenth day of the seventh month you shall sound the trumpet; on the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout the land. You will declare this fiftieth year sacred and proclaim the liberation of all the inhabitants of the land. This is to be a jubilee for you; each of you will return to his ancestral home, each to his own clan. This fiftieth year is to be a jubilee year for you: you will not sow, you will not harvest the ungathered corn, you will not gather from the untrimmed vine. The jubilee is to be a holy thing to you, you will eat what comes from the fields.
‘In this year of jubilee each of you is to return to his ancestral home. If you buy or sell with your neighbour, let no one wrong his brother. If you buy from your neighbour, this must take into account the number of years since the jubilee: according to the number of productive years he will fix the price. The greater the number of years, the higher shall be the price demanded; the less the number of years, the greater the reduction; for what he is selling you is a certain number of harvests. Let none of you wrong his neighbour, but fear your God; I am the Lord your God.’
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 66(67):2-3,5,7-8
Let the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you.
O God, be gracious and bless us
and let your face shed its light upon us.
So will your ways be known upon earth
and all nations learn your saving help.
Let the nations be glad and exult
for you rule the world with justice.
With fairness you rule the peoples,
you guide the nations on earth.
The earth has yielded its fruit
for God, our God, has blessed us.
May God still give us his blessing
till the ends of the earth revere him.
Gospel Acclamation cf. Luke 8:15
Blessed are those who,
with a noble and generous heart,
take the word of God to themselves
and yield a harvest through their perseverance.
Gospel Matthew 14:1-12
The beheading of John the Baptist
Herod the tetrarch heard about the reputation of Jesus, and said to his court, ‘This is John the Baptist himself; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’
Now it was Herod who had arrested John, chained him up and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. For John had told him, ‘It is against the Law for you to have her.’ He had wanted to kill him but was afraid of the people, who regarded John as a prophet. Then, during the celebrations for Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and so delighted Herod that he promised on oath to give her anything she asked. Prompted by her mother she said, ‘Give me John the Baptist’s head, here, on a dish.’ The king was distressed but, thinking of the oaths he had sworn and of his guests, he ordered it to be given her, and sent and had John beheaded in the prison. The head was brought in on a dish and given to the girl, who took it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went off to tell Jesus.
The Gospel Reading speaks of the beheading of John the Baptist because of an oath Herod made to Salome the daughter of Herodias. The episode is within the context of a birthday celebration. Such parties were characterised by a lot of drinking. Herod might have been drunk when he promised Salome under oath that he would give her whatever she asked for from him. Little did Herod think that the girl would be influenced by her mother, Herodias to ask for the head of John the Baptist. He might have thought that the young woman would ask for a portion of his kingdom which he would have been willing to give her. From the way the story is narrated, we realise how surprised Herod was at the request of Salome.
Herod found himself in an awkward situation since he made a public oath in the presence of his guests. The refusal to honour his oath would have been taken as a weakness on his part. Herod could not act against his oath without losing face before the dignitaries of his kingdom and he was not ready for such humiliation.
The situation of Herod in the story brings to the fore the unpleasant consequences of acting under the influence of alcohol. When we do not have full control of our mind, we risk making pronouncements that have not been well pondered over or evaluated. In moments of excitement, we tend to put reason aside and act on our emotions. This is not good for any person but more so for people in leadership position. It is important to train ourselves to reflect well over issues before making pronouncements. A critical mind is always helpful in making the right decision at the right time.
The story also reveals that Herod was afraid of the shame and humiliation that would have come upon him if he did not accomplish his oath. In other words, he was not ready to admit that he acted under the influence of alcohol, He was not ready to confess that the decision to make a promise under oath was not the most appropriate one. Herod portrayed his pride at the expense of the life of a human person. We should learn to admit our mistakes instead of aggravating our evil deeds as Herod did in the Gospel Reading.