Life sometimes seems unfair, even for a child of God. Joseph is in prison because of his commitment to righteous living. He stays in prison for two additional years because the cupbearer to the king, whom Joseph helped, has a bad memory. John the Baptist is in prison for his outspoken stand on righteous living; he spoke out boldly against the illicit sexual interests of Herod for his brother’s wife. It doesn’t go well for John in the end — he gets beheaded!
Our human reaction is outrage at the unfairness of it all. We ask ourselves, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Those who know how the story of Joseph ends, know that Joseph’s imprisonment put him in the right place at the right time. Joseph says to his brothers at the end of the story (wait till you get to the end of Genesis), “God intended those years in prison for good, putting me in a place where I could save many lives.” (Genesis 50:20) When you know the end of the story, Joseph’s years in prison make sense.
But try to make sense of the beheading of John the Baptist! He is beheaded, buried and we hardly hear about him again. Is his death merely the price paid for living with integrity? Is there any “good news” in the story of the Baptist’s beheading? Perhaps the question, “What was God doing in the beheading of John the Baptist?” is asked from an anthropocentric perspective (that is, the human perspective; anthro is the Greek word for man). But Matthew seems to have a theocentric perspective (that is, God’s perspective; theo is the Greek word for God).
Matthew 13, which we read yesterday, records some of Jesus’ Kingdom teachings. Today’s reading, the beheading of John the Baptist, is sandwiched between that chapter and stories of Jesus doing spectacular miracles. In the person of Jesus, the Kingdom of God is breaking into a dark world. John the Baptist knows his singular role is to prepare the way for the Messiah, who has now arrived. Perhaps the gruesome story of John the Baptist’s beheading makes sense when we see it from God’s perspective. John’s life purpose as the forerunner of Jesus and his Kingdom is complete. The Messiah has arrived!
Key Thought: When things don’t make sense from a human perspective, it helps to ask God what the situation looks like from His perspective.
Retired Ambrose professor and International Worker with the C&MA