Saturday, August 2, 2014

The arrest of John

When we hear the word "arrested" our minds jump to crime. The word literally means to stop. We borrowed it from the French arrét. And let's be honest, while our law says that a person is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, we all presume if they were arrested, they must have done something. And with both men in today's readings, they did do something.

In order to understand the first reading today you have to remember that "prophet" was an official office. When we read the phrase the "priests and prophets" we should remember that they were the religious officials of the time. A prophet was not simply some spontaneously inspired person. The temple was the center of the Jewish faith, and the priests and prophets were the ones running the show. They call for Jeremiah to be arrested and put do death. Had he done something? Yes. He had opposed them.

Oh they didn't have guts to admit that, so they trumped up a charge. Luckily, the people were smarter than officials, and said to them

This man does not deserve death; it is in the name of the LORD, our God, that he speaks to us.

Cut to the gospel, and we have the arrest of John. Had he done something? Once again the answer is yes.

This time the official is Herod, who had been named to his post by Caesar. John had dared to denounce Herod for unlawfully marrying his brother's wife. As much as we all tend to blame the wife Herodias and the daughter, Matthew's gospel tells us

Although he [Herod] wanted to kill him, he feared the people

Herod wanted him dead. The request of the daughter provided him with the excuse he needed. Unlike Jeremiah, there were no people to save John . John would be the precursor to Jesus, who was the ultimate victim of an arrest for political purposes.

The French have a saying, "plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose." The more things change the more they remain the same.

The effects of original sin are still glaringly apparent, and those in power in any structure religious (Jeremiah) or civil (John) often fall into the temptation to use their authority to exact retribution on their political enemies. We, the people, cannot be naïve enough to assume that the authorities are telling the truth. As much as some would like to deny it, the thought of our founding fathers was Christian.

Yesterday we spoke of virtues. Today's readings remind us of the absolute necessity of the virtue of

Justice- the constant and perpetual will to give to each person what they are due.

We must demand justice even for people we don't like. And when we marry the natural virtue of justice to the theological virtue of caritas, we will always give every person the benefit of the doubt, and presume they are innocent, until it is truly proven that they are guilty.

The next time you read in the paper or hear on the news that someone was arrested, test your Christianity. What is your initial response, your gut reaction? You may find you are less Christian than you think.

The good news- there is always time for conversion.