By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published October 15, 2015
“Later, when his disciples heard about this, they came and carried his body away and laid it in a tomb.” Mark 6:29
The Gospel passage from Mark about the beheading of John the Baptist closes with the above line that leaves us much to ponder. It is only one sentence—20 words that convey more than the preceding tragedy that took the life of John the Baptist and, collaterally, the lives of Herod and his court.
We hear the account of the beheading and other, even contemporary, horrors come to mind. The savagery of ISIS is the most recent example of how inhuman we can be to each other. And it is not only beheadings that so affront our sense of what it means to be human. Any time life is slaughtered, be it through murder, war, genocide and all the other means that we have resorted to in order to extinguish the unwanted from our midst, there takes place a profound violation of what it means to be human, caring and loving.
The taking of a life is, more often than not, carried out in order to exact revenge. We have, in varying degrees, become experts when it comes to devising means to usher in payback time. We have become used to a way of thinking whereby it is right and just that people who have harmed us deserve, are even asking for, their just desserts. Be it an electric chair, a settlement out of court or a punch in the mouth, an “eye for an eye” dictates a way of getting a revenge that we just take for granted.
The last line of the Gospel speaks of a way of life that still may come as a shock to many in our modern day world. There is no talk of revenge, of making even the score with Herod. It is as if the disciples absorb the pain of the loss of one they loved and carry his body and then his mission, without turning back and seeking a way to harm the one who executed a man in whom they had placed love and hope.
Faith in God brings with it an awareness that life cannot be taken. A body may be disposed of, but the life lives on. It cannot be extinguished. And this awareness leads one to see other lives the same way. Life is a gift of and from God, and it cannot be done away with by removing a head. John’s disciples would have known this.
There are countless others, throughout history, who have been given hope by this same gift of faith—and not only Christians. We have our disciples, our Martin Luther Kings, our Amish, our Dorothy Days, our Bonhoeffers, our long line of saints who died knowing that their deaths were a mere passing from this life to a new life. People of other ways of faith have their teachers as well, as in the case of a Gandhi.
We stand in a faith tradition that has brought forth men and women who saw life for what it truly is—they saw it through eyes of faith, the eyes given them by a loving God. And that way of seeing transformed them.
In St. Augustine’s words: “Love your neighbor, then, and see within yourself the power by which you love your neighbor; there you will see God, as far as you are able.”
And so we carry the bodies of those we have loved and for a while, lost, and lay them to rest. And hopefully, if that body was lost to us through the actions of others, we will offer them what we know and possess to be good: forgiveness, not revenge.
Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery web store at www.abbeystore.com.