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Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lev. 25:1, 8-17 & Mt. 14:1-12

According to the Law of Moses, as described in today's first reading, the lsraelites were to set aside every seventh year as a Sabbath year, a year of rest when the land was to lie fallow, with no harvesting or buying and selling. Instead, the people would rely on the Lord to provide for them, allowing them to gather freely from what grew of itself on the land. After seven Sabbath years had passed, that is, 49 full years, a year of jubilee was declared, a time to rejoice in God's salvation.

During this year there was, again, to be no tilling or harvesting. In addition, all slaves were to be released, and all lands were to be restored to their original owners. During the Jubilee Year, the lsraelites were to recall that they were all equal before the Lord. There could be no masters and slaves; no one could be dispossessed of land; everyone would be treated as a brother or sister, each precious in the Lord's eyes.

The whole point of a Jubilee Year was to remove all divisions and discriminations, to bring people to a closer relationship with God and one another. It was an occasion to receive blessings from God's hands and to use individuals to lead others to salvation.

In the Gospel we are told the story of John the Baptist's death. When Herod heard the reports about Jesus, he was sure that it was really John, whom he had executed, come back from the dead. That's how deep an impression John's life, teaching and work had made on him. This is quite a testimony to the power of John's life!

The grisly account has all the ingredients of a present-day X rated film. It features adultery, incest, an evil oath and a grotesque murder committed as a gesture of appreciation for sensual entertainment, all witnessed by the party guests who acquiesced. They knew well that Herod and Herodias were living in adultery; the oath given by Herod was out of order; the call for the execution of an untried, innocent and holy man under that oath utterly wrong. In calling for John's head, Herod chose murder rather than loss of face before his guests. Only John had stood up for what was right and he paid the price.

What effect should this account have on us today? We can ask ourselves how we would have reacted if we had been caught up in these events. Would we have sat silent while the events unfolded around us, or would we have dared to stand before the grandiose gathering to protest or call for a halt to the proceedings? How do we react when we witness wrongs going on in the world around us? Are we willing to stand up and be counted, or do we prefer a quiet life? We are called through our baptism to live prophetic lives, proclaiming the Good News, to repent and to turn away from sin. It is easy today to be lulled into a false sense of acceptance, dulling our minds to the sense of sin. We can be certain that if John were around today he would still be raising his voice in protest against all evil and immoral behaviour, and the laws and attitudes that allow it. Let his clarion cry from the past awaken us to our prophetic calling.

Lord Jesus, may Your Holy Spirit give us the strength to be like John the Baptist, living upright lives, prophets in our time speaking up for the truth and against all that You have told us is wrong.

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