Decreasing for the Messiah
July 30th Readings Reflection: Saturday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel reading recounts the story of St. John the Baptist’s death. Herod had first ordered John to be arrested on account of the prophet denouncing Herod’s adulterous marriage. Herod did not want to admit to his sin in marrying the wife of his brother; consequently, when John the Baptist called him out for it, Herod became angry and ordered him to be imprisoned. Herod eventually allowed his lust to consume him to the point of ordering the prophet’s murder.
The daughter of Herodias, Herod’s illicit wife, danced for the guests at his birthday. Overwhelmed by passion at her dancing, Herod promised to give the girl “whatever she might ask for.” Herodias urged her to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter, and unwilling to be seen as one unable to keep his oaths, Herod consented.
When I was writing this article, I read the next verses in this chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel to see the context in which it appears. After John’s disciples told Jesus about the death of the Baptist, He retired to the desert, where a great crowd — a “multitude,” as the Douay-Rheims Bible describes it — followed Him (Mat 14:13 DRB). He healed their sick and, rather than sending them away to find food, Jesus miraculously fed them with five loaves and two fishes that very day.
Thus, we see Jesus beginning to manifest Himself as the Messiah, the Living Bread from Heaven, right after the death of John the Baptist. As that great prophet said, “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). John decreased to the point of being executed, and Jesus immediately increased to the point of miraculously feeding over five thousand people, prefiguring the Holy Eucharist. May we the faithful learn to cultivate the virtue of humility, so that we may imitate St. John the Baptist and allow Christ to increase in our hearts.
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