Only three figures in the salvation story are honored on the days of their births and their deaths: Jesus the Christ, Mary the Mother of God and John the Baptist. We keep the nativity of John on June 24; today we keep the day of his death. In the Eastern rites, today is a solemn fast, a strict as the Good Friday fast.
John is murdered (Matthew 14:1-2) because he dares to condemn the unlawful marriage of Herod Antipas and his wife, Herodias. (Herodias was married to Herod Antipas’ brother. She divorced him in order to marry her lover, in violation of Jewish law as found in Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21)
The story illustrates how sin begets sin. Unwilling to acknowledge her sin, Herodias demands, rather, that anyone who mentions her sin be silenced.
Herodias was furious that John would criticize her. She convinced Herod Antipas to imprison him. He wanted to execute John, but he was afraid that John’s followers would riot.
On Herod Antipas’ birthday, Herodias had her daughter, Salome, dance for him. Herod Antipas was so entranced by Salome’s dancing, that he promised her any gift she desired. Salome listened to her mother and demanded the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
Herod Antipas had John beheaded. His head was brought on a platter and given to Salome, who gave it in turn to her mother.
The story illustrates how sin begets sin. Unwilling to acknowledge her sin, Herodias demands, rather, that anyone who mentions her sin be silenced. In his sermon, Peter Chrysologus (c.380-450) writes,
You have heard, brothers that sensual pleasure may give birth to great cruelty. “And his head was brought on a platter.” The house is converted into an arena, the table changes into a stall at the amphitheater, the birthday guests turn into spectators, the feast grows into a furor, the food ripens into carnage, the wine transforms into blood, the birthday changes into a funeral, sunrise evolves into sunset, the banquet is altered into a bloody killing, and musical instruments perform the tragedy of the ages.
Going to confession is a good way to keep this day. If Herodias and Herod Antipas had admitted their sins, asking forgiveness and resolving to sin no more, their sexual sins might not have given “birth to great cruelty,” the great cruelty of murder.