About this day: In contrast to the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (observed on June 24), this festival commemorates his beheading by the tetrarch, Herod Antipas. From the perspective of the world, it was an ignominious end to John the Baptist’s life. Yet it was in fact a noble participation in the cross of Christ, which was John’s greatest glory of all. Christ Himself said that there had arisen none greater than John the Baptist. He was the last of the Old Testament prophets and also the herald of the New Testament. As the forerunner of Christ, John fulfilled the prophecy that the great prophet Elijah would return before the great and terrible day of the Lord. By his preaching and Baptism of repentance, John turned “the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.” And in the footsteps of the prophets who had gone before him—in anticipation of the Christ whose way he prepared—this servant of the Lord manifested the cross by the witness of his death. (From theTreasury of Daily Prayer, p. 670.
Reflection: let us remember why John the Baptizer was killed:
St. Matthew14: 3For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.”
John taught the sanctity of marriage to the powers that be. This is what cost John his life and his life is a martyria, a witness, to the Word in and out of season.
Marriage has been “out of season” (see2 Timothy 4:1-3). As the years rolled on, I spend more and more time in confirmation classes, on the 6th Commandment, than on the other nine: You shall not commit adultery. From The Small Catechism by Dr. Martin Luther:
What does this mean?–Answer.
We should fear and love God that we may lead a chaste and decent life in words and deeds, and each love and honor his spouse.
In teaching this commandment, I ask the class for the ways in which this commandment is broken. With more than a little bit of help by the teacher (!): the dry-erase board fills up very quickly: adultery, divorce, “hooking-up”, living together, pornography, incest, masochism, sadism, masturbation, abortion, same-sex marriage, homosexuality, bestiality, polygamy, etc. Now our sexuality is not virtuous, never has been since Eden. And then I point out that we are forgiven in Jesus Christ, upon His Cross, He bore our sin and is our Savior. I take the eraser and swipe through the black ink a cross. One year a confirmand exclaimed, “That’s heavy”. Yes! His Cross was heavy, as heavy as our sin.
John the Baptist bore the brunt in preaching the sanctity of marriage in his day. We must also and in marriage be helpmates one to the other, modeled after Christ and His Church, His Bride and modeling to the world the marriage of two Baptized sinners in Christ.
This may be the first time in Western European history that the list above has been legally sanctioned and for a good part of society and culture accepted. We are living in a neo-pagan, neo-Roman world, as did our forebears in the Church did from AD33 to Edict of Milan in AD313 (see: Edict_of_Milan). Ever more we need Luther’s counsel in the Large Catechism on the 6th commandment:
But because among us there is such a shameful mess and the very dregs of all vice and lewdness, this commandment is directed also against all manner of unchastity, whatever it may be called; and not only is the external act forbidden, but also every kind of cause, incitement, and means, so that the heart, the lips, and the whole body may be chaste and afford no opportunity, help, or persuasion to unchastity.
Therefore go out from their midst,and be separate from them, says the Lord,and touch no unclean thing;then I will welcome you…
This verse may be the basis of the Amish way of life, at least in the movie ‘Witness’(!) Does this mean we need to be like the Amish? St. Augustine preached on the Prophet Jeremiah which speaks to the Lord’s prophet, John, the way the Church is and should be as in 2 Corinthians 6: 17:
How many and vehement rebukes did Jeremiah preach against the sinners and wicked ones of his people. Yet he lived among them, he entered into the same temple with them, celebrated the same mysteries; he lived in that congregation of wicked men, but by his preaching “he came out from among them.” This is what it means “to come out from among them”; this is what it means to not “touch the unclean thing.” It means not consenting to them in will and not sparing them in word. I say this of Jeremiah, of Isaiah, of Daniel, and Ezekiel, and the rest of the prophets, who did not retire from the wicked people, lest they should desert the good who were mingled with that people. (emphasis my own)
“It means not consenting to them in will and not sparing them in word.” The Lord has called His Church as the communion of His Will and Word, both of which are one. As in the days of the Roman Empire, the Church did not consent with much of the pagan culture and touched not the unclean things. Do Christians fail in the sanctity of marriage? Yes, but this can not be an excuse to continue touching unclean things and so sin (see Romans 6:1-3) When we do sin, we know the terrors of hell and turn in repentance to the Lord Who died and rose for us.
This is still our vocation in marriage, according to the Lord’s Word of Law and Promise, not to touch the unclean thing. Possible? Not on our own but only in Him are all things possible. As John was a prophet, he did not spare them in the Word of God. The Church can not either. Why? As St. Augustine preached so that His people will be spared and I would add, as John and the Lord calls us: to true repentance that sinners might turn to the Lord and live.
This means that marriage is a true good work by which the Lord preserves life in the world and by it He gives forgiveness: see the Holy Family. Marriage is a central means to love our neighbor. From Luther’s Large Catechism:
God has also most richly blessed this estate above all others, and, in addition, has bestowed on it and wrapped up in it everything in the world, to the end that this estate might be well and richly provided for. Married life is therefore no jest or presumption; but it is an excellent thing and a matter of divine seriousness. For it is of the highest importance to Him that persons be raised who may serve the world and promote the knowledge of God, godly living, and all virtues, to fight against wickedness and the devil.
Let us pray: