Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist

Lectionary: 431/634

I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling,
and my message and my proclamation
were not with persuasive words of wisdom,

Readings for today’s Mass come from two sources, the passage from I Corinthians is for Monday of the 22nd week of Ordinary Time, and the gospel marks the “Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist.”

In both readings we find the weakness of God. The Christian witness is like John the Baptist, defenseless against savage powers of this world. The Christian missionary is equally powerless to force the gospel on anyone. Paul reminds the Corinthians that he came to them in weakness, fear and much trembling. Nor did he use “persuasive words of wisdom.” 

Paul was well educated and he knew all the standard methods of argumentation. He had tried them in Athens when he spoke of Jesus, only to find the crowd unpersuaded. When they heard of Jesus’ resurrection they laughed and walked away. So when Paul moved on to Philippi and Corinth he dropped the professional, polished style and spoke simply of Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

The Gospel is so exquisitely fragile, it cannot bear even the coercion that goes on in ordinary family life. Sometimes people excuse themselves from their religious obligation saying, "Religion was forced down my throat when I was a child." I am not inclined to believe that story; I suspect they picked up the phrase from someone else and adopted it for themselves. But if there is any truth to the legend, it reveals the infinite gentleness of our merciful God. He gave us our freedom and will not take it back. 

If someone came to you and said, “The Son of God was executed in federal detention in Terre Haute, Indiana; and was raised up on the third day!” would you believe it? Obviously, this message is going to need a different approach. Cinematic special effects and slick advertising may entertain but they’re not likely to persuade anyone to believe in an executed-but-resurrected criminal.

Remember, Paul was not simply asking strangers to believe that it happened; he wanted them to believe in Jesus as Messiah and Lord. To succeed at all, his mission required divine intervention within docile hearts.

They would have to believe in him, that is Paul, first. If he is lying, his message is obviously bunkum; but if the messenger is honest, sincere, unpretentious and willing to face some opposition without getting upset, perhaps there is something to what he says.

After many false starts the Church has learned that the message of the gospel depends upon her own credibility. That may seem like a weak foundation but Jesus insists upon it: “Peter, you are rock! And the gates of hell cannot prevail against you!” Not even decapitation can take the wind out of our sails. In fact, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

Saint Francis urged his disciples to “Look at the humility of God.” In the long run, God's weakness is irresistible.

Americans love their powerful guns, computers, tractors and military; they gorge themselves on power. Many American Christians celebrate God’s Power; their religion is more patriotic than evangelical. It comes to nothing. 

Today’s memorial -- the Passion of John the Baptist -- invites us to consider the weakness of God and to reconsider how we live, announce and teach our religion.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

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