King Herod had a critic named John. First he put John in jail and then he beheaded him, but that didn’t silence the baptizing prophet for we read his words still. John the Baptist is the patron saint of those who protest against injustice today. John was a journalist before there was newsprint. So on this weekend following the Fourth of July, we remember John’s martyrdom at the hands of Herod Antipas, as well as the slain journalists in Baltimore. I think the spirit of John the Baptist (or the “Dipping Man” in my Mary Sees All novel) leads us to ask, “When is Government Sinful?”
Government sin has three forms (in descending order):
First, bad policy — This may not seem like sin at all, but ill-conceived tax cuts and poor environmental regulation shackles the next generation and betrays the Genesis 1:28 commandment that we be good stewards over the earth. Prophets and journalists speak about this sin with the opening phrase, “History will prove…”
Second, social injustice — Here kings and presidents stoop lower to betray the poor, the refugee, and the innocent. They sin by their silence when people of color lose their children to aggressive policing. They sin by their quiet approval of hate groups. They sin in their closed door dealings with other rulers who oppress their people. Jesus, John the Baptist, the Old Testament prophets; Isaiah, Micah, Amos, and Hosea, lifted their voice against those who sinned against the poor. Religion must speak.
Third, greed and lust for power — This is the sin that is closest to Satan’s heart. John the Baptist lost his head because he spoke against the corruptions, self-aggrandizement, and moral failures of the Herodian dynasty. Those who reach for greatness, power, strength, and gold-gilded beauty in their own kingly reign, brag about the good deals they make at the expense of others. For them, their ends can justify any means. But God calls each of us in our daily dealings with those in authority to always witness to the importance of fair minded-ness, compromise, and compassion.
We remember John the Baptist by speaking for those who have no voice in our world.
(note this lection is really for July 15th, but those in America should shift to provide and appropriate message for the week)