daily biblical sermons

Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Saturday, 17th Week of the Year, August 01, 2015
Lev. 25:1, 8-17, Ps. 66, Matt. 14:1-12

Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.


"And the King was sorry; but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given; he sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother" (Matt. 14:9-11).

This is the beheading of John the Baptist by Herod Antipas. Herod kept John safe in prison, and St. Mark says that Herod respected him and held him in awe. He says, "Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. When he heard him, he was much perplexed; and yet he heard him gladly" (Mark 6:20).

Yet, at Herod's birthday party, he promised on oath to Herodias's daughter, who had pleased him with her dance, that he would give her whatever she asked for. Counseled by her mother, she requested the head of John the Baptist on a platter. This put Herod into a bind. He knew John to be "a righteous and holy man," yet he had just publicly promised on oath before all his guests at his birthday banquet to give this dancing girl whatever she wanted. He did not want to kill a righteous and holy man in cold blood, but he did not want to break his oath to this girl in front of all his guests at his banquet either. Her request made him very sad. St. Mark says, "And the King was exceedingly sorry; but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her" (Mark 6:26). So he ordered John to be beheaded in prison.

Herod gave way to human respect instead of standing up for moral principles. He murdered a man in cold blood, whom he knew was innocent, in order to please a dancing girl and his guests at a banquet. He chose to look good in the eyes of this girl and to please his fellow banqueters rather than stand up for what he knew was right. He was ashamed to do what he knew was right.

How often do people act this way? Very often! They prefer to go along with their group, even when they know that their group is off course. They prefer to blend in rather than stand out for what they know is right. They fear the thoughts of others, that people will judge them, consider them strange, and speak about them behind their back. So they blend in with whatever their group is doing. They compromise themselves and bow to human respect. They fear men rather than God.

When the Sanhedrin told the apostles not to speak about Jesus, they answered, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). And Jesus says, "Every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 10:32-33). If we do not want Christ to deny us, we must not deny him before men. We must not be afraid of doing what is right and speaking the truth before men. We must not be ashamed of Christ before men. "For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38).

Why is it that today there are practically no vocations to the priesthood and religious life in many countries? Is it not because nowadays we are afraid of being different from the world around us? Is it not because we prefer to just go along with whatever the secular world around us is doing? Is it not because we are afraid of living in a different way, so that we simply imitate the secular lifestyle of the world around us? We have become ashamed of our own way of life, a life of simplicity and silence in our religious houses. Religious dress has been largely abandoned. Living according to the pattern of the cross, in which we abandon worldly pleasures to find all our delight in the Lord, has also gone by the way for many. So are we really surprised that practically no one is attracted to join us anymore? Why should they be attracted if our life has simply become a carbon copy of the worldly lifestyle around us?

What is the solution? The solution is not to fear to be different. We should not fear to be ourselves, living a life of simplicity and evangelical poverty, renouncing worldly pleasures and entertainments, seeking all our delight in the Lord, living a life of prayer and fasting, silence, meditation, and quiet work, loving God with all our heart (Mark 12:30), and serving him alone as our only master (Matt. 6:24).

If we did this, instead of acting out of fear of what others might think of us, we would be acting according to the truth, fearing God rather than men, and surely our vocations crisis would clear up.


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