Friends, in today’s Gospel, Herod has John the Baptist beheaded, making him a protomartyr of Christ’s followers, the first of many martyrs to come.
Can we read that terrible and wonderful book of martyrs, the book of Revelation, without seeing the power of bold, truthful proclamation in the early Christian Church? And the cloud of witnesses grows up and down the Christian centuries. Today, from Pakistan to Nigeria, from Egypt to Iraq, ordinary Christians routinely risk their lives simply by declaring their faith and worshiping according to their consciences.
They are walking in the footsteps of great martyrs of the tradition, from Stephen, Peter, and Paul to Miguel Pro shouting “Viva Cristo Rey!” to his executioners; Martin Luther King Jr. taking an assassin’s bullet because he insisted on being a drum major for New Testament justice; and Franz Jaggerstätter, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Edith Stein challenging to their dying breaths the lies of Nazism.
And what we see in these martyrs is not ordinary courage but a courage elevated and transfigured through love. We see a willingness to give away even one’s life out of love for Christ and his people.