It might seem strange that the first reading today discusses remaining tranquil and to mind one’s own affairs on the day that we celebrate the beheading of Saint John the Baptist. First, tranquil is not the first word that comes to mind when thinking about him. Second, it also does not appear to be the case that Saint John the Baptist was one who could mind his own affairs, since it was his challenge to Herod that caused his ultimate death. He was able to take on Pharisees, Herodians, and others to make sure that the knew clearly that to follow Jesus required an absolute choice to live in a particular way. In describing Saint John the Baptist, it is easy to remember there is simply nothing halfway about living the life of faith.
On one level, this is coincidental since the first reading is the reading for today is the continuation of the Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians we have been reading over the past few days. But since they are together, it does raise the question about whether there is a way that Saint John the Baptist could be seen as one who is tranquil. I think there is.
To be sure, first, it must be considered that there is evidence the preaching of Saint John the Baptist had appeal to a wide number of people. Leaving the comfort of the the known to follow this odd preacher out into the desert and to be challenged to reform their lives does, on the one hand, seem to be a challenge. Yet, it happened. What is it that appealed to those who went out into the desert?
This is precisely a version of the question Jesus asks about John. What did you go out to see? Why is it the challenging message of John made such a difference in people’s lives, when it could be seen at the same time as very unsettling? Perhaps what was most appealing to the people was the authenticity that was readily apparent to those who came to hear John speak. Could they have witnessed in John’s life and message the authentic witness that does bring tranquility? Was that the case?
John was no hypocrite. He did not say one thing and do another. He gave his life for the faith, to remain true to the relationship he had with God. As a result, his example grew the faith. He prepared the way for Jesus not just be words, but by living a clear example of total commitment to God, which was to be evidenced in the self-gift of the suffering and death of Jesus.
It can be hard for me to see this as a pathway to tranquility, maybe because I do not allow myself to be challenged enough by God. Maybe I have become too comfortable in my faith. Perhaps what I am reminded about today is that the peace that surpasses understanding can only be found by allowing myself to be upset by God enough to see those things that really matter.