SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ LEV 25:18-17MT 14:1-12]

What is the vision of God for humanity in His plan of salvation?  God wants us to share in His love and life.  This entails that we are in communion with Him and in communion with the human family. He desires that humanity live in true brotherhood, in unity based on the principles of love, justice and equality. This magnificent plan of God unfolds itself in the establishment of the People of God, the constitution of Israel as a nation.  In order to preserve the harmonious relationship between Israel and God and among themselves, God gave them a set of laws which we call the Mosaic Laws.

Among these laws, one of the most important is that of the Jubilee law.  Every seventh year was a sabbatical year and at the end of every seven sabbatical years there was a year of jubilee.  Hence, the Jubilee year comes every fifty years.  According to this jubilee tradition, all debts were to be forgiven.  Slaves were set free and land sold in repayment of a debt must be returned to its original owner (Lev 25:23-28).  In this way, justice and equality among all inhabitants was restored.

This Jubilee tradition with respect to the regulation of land and social relationships appears to be merely a pragmatic means of keeping social order.  Yet the basis of such a social program is rooted not so much in humanitarian concerns but a theological reality, namely, that God is the ultimate owner of the land. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your God.” (Lev 25:38) Whatever we have in this world does not belong to us but to God who is the master.  We are merely stewards of God’s gifts and God’s creation.  God loves all His people and He does not want anyone of us to be poor or be in servitude.  Hence, He wants to re-establish the right social relationships and proper economic order among His people.

Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom message is certainly in line with the spirit of this Jubilee Tradition.  He began His ministry in the power of the Spirit in the background of the Jubilee Tradition, like all the prophets before Him, including John the Baptist, who was the last in the line of the Old Testament prophets.  At Nazareth where He inaugurated His ministry, He deliberately cited from Isaiah 61:1-2 which says, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour …” (Lk 4:18-19)

What are the implications of this message for us all?  In the first place, it means that we cannot dissociate the spiritual message of the Kingdom of God from the social, political and economic dimensions of the gospel.  Although the gospel does not offer a blueprint for how we should implement social or political policies, it does give us the principles of how society should be governed according to the spiritual values of the gospel, which is based on compassion, equality and justice.  The first reading reminds us that we must be fair in our dealings with our brothers and sisters. These fundamental values are underpinned by a theological understanding that every human person is a child of God and therefore must be given his rightful dignity.  Social justice and human rights are rooted in the fact that man is created in God’s image and likeness.

Secondly, it follows that we are not living an authentic Christian life if we are purely contented with a spiritual and liturgical life.  Just attending mass and saying prayers, and even reading the Word of God alone, does not make us a true Christian.  When our spiritual life is dichotomized from the concrete practice of Christian love and charity towards our neighbours, that kind of faith is self-centered and individualistic, since it bears no fruits in love and service.  In the final analysis, we will be judged by whether we love our brothers and sisters, for as St John says, “for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.  The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. ” (1 Jn 4:20f)

Thirdly, it shows that Christian charity is not based solely on humanitarianism, that is, compassion for our fellowmen, but on the very fact that all the goods we have belong to God and that we are all equally His sons and daughters.  We are only stewards of God’s gifts, whether it is with regard to wealth, power and resources.  So whatever God has given to us, we must be ready to share our goods with others, especially those who are marginalized and poor. The poor too, are entitled to enjoy the goods of the earth.

Consequently, being a true disciple of the Lord requires that we follow the examples of Jesus and John the Baptist in speaking out for the poor and championing the cause of the weak and the voiceless.  To be a voice for the truth and for what is right of course is a prophetic role that few are ready to assume and are courageous enough to undertake.  To carry out such a role presumes that we ourselves are living an authentic life of justice and a life of poverty.  When we speak in favour of the weak in society and expose the corruption of those in power, we can be certain that we will face tremendous opposition and persecution.  We could even be stripped of our own wealth, power, livelihood, and face harm and threats to our life as well as that of our family’s.  This was true in the case of Jesus and John the Baptist.  As we read in today’s gospel, the price of truth is death and martyrdom.

But is there really a choice?  We can behave like King Herod who was indecisive in the face of truth.  He allowed his selfishness, pride and lust to control the way he acted.  He was afraid of facing the truth about himself.  On one hand, he felt inspired listening to John the Baptist, but on the other hand, he could not obey the Word of God.  As a consequence, he lived in guilt all his life and was haunted by his bad conscience, especially in his cowardly act of putting John the Baptist to death in order to please Herodias and his audience and to protect his pride.  When we are in a position to use our power, authority, status or influence to put things right, but fail to do so, we would certainly have failed in our duty to be God’s prophet.  Our conscience will eventually catch up with us and we will live in regret and guilt like King Herod.

Or would we allow ourselves, like Herodias’ daughter, to be used as a pawn by selfish people to do their evil deeds?  Some of us may not be in a position of power or influence, but we can easily succumb to those in power and authority.  For fear of earning their wrath or falling out of their favour, we suck up to them and cooperate with them in their wrongdoings and acts of injustice.  This is particularly true of subordinates who, for fear of losing their livelihood or the desire for promotion, shrink from voicing their disapproval of dishonest and unscrupulous means used by their superiors to secure business contracts or have their projects approved. By cooperating with them, we too become accomplices to their crimes.

Worse still, if we allow ourselves to become a Herodias; whose heart was so filled with anger, resentment, bitterness and vindictiveness that she would stop at nothing to spew her venom.  She was the chief protagonist in the plot to put John the Baptist away permanently.  Only a person who has become so evil could scheme not only to have the Baptist beheaded but to have his head on a plate, and to even instigate her daughter to cooperate with her in her heinous crime.  Some of us who are so absorbed by power, possessed by greed and lust, enslaved by anger and revenge, would do anything to destroy our enemies and those who are against us, even when we know they speak the truth.

Today, let us follow the footsteps of our Lord and John the Baptist.  They died for the values espoused by the Law, particularly by the Jubilee Year.  We, too, must pray for courage, integrity and wisdom. The prophet Micah asked, “O man, what is good and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God!” (Mic 6:8)