Readings: Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18
The entrance antiphon, the first two readings, the responsorial psalm all exhort us to rejoice. But in today’s Gospel, the words “rejoice” or “joy” don’t even appear. Instead we find John the Baptist responding to the crowd’s questions with demanding replies.
We are only told that these people are filled with expectation, which could tip over into joy or apprehension, even fright…It can seem ambiguous.
On second thought, the ambiguity may be in my own head! Am I parroting the values we live by today, that “joy” and “demanding replies” would be incompatible? Has my reaction been infected by the presumption that joy must be unfettered by responsibility? That spontaneity exists apart from discipline or ethical standards? That my enjoyment of life is necessarily self-satisfying and unlimited by others? That freedom is infinite choice?
From what John the Baptist advises, freedom could only be one choice: the right choice, the choice that corresponds to God’s will. And so with joy: I should not expect my own way yield happiness. Don’t I know how hollow and fleeting is the satisfaction I get from having my way?
I’m not suggesting that John the Baptist merrily waltzed to his beheading; I’m not claiming he felt satisfaction from being right when he was arrested and imprisoned. But he didn’t resist his arrest or claim that he was wronged. Perhaps there is a quiet joy in bearing the consequences of what we’ve chosen to fulfill God’s will.
He didn’t dance. It was Salome, the daughter of Herodias, who danced and was used by her mother to get her revenge. Salome made the expedient choice to ask for the head of John. But did that mistake gnaw at her conscience? Did she become the Salome, who St. Mark tells us, stood by the cross and brought spices to Jesus tomb on Easter morning? Was that her path to joy?