We must not hurry past the record of blessed Baptist John. We must ask what he was; by whom he was slain; and why and how. He was a righteous man, murdered for his righteousness by adulterers. He was a judge, who suffered condemnation to death by the guilty ones because he had justly judged their guilt. He was the prophet whose death was a fee paid to a dancing-girl for a lascivious dance. And lastly a thing from which even savages would shrink his head was served up as a dish at a banquet. For the order to commit the atrocity was given amid the merriment of a dinner-party; and the servants of the murderer introduced the murder amid the courses of the meal, running from banquet to prison, and from prison to banquet! See how many infamies are contained in this one crime.
Who is there that, on seeing the messenger hasten from the dinner-table to the prison, would not have forthwith concluded that he carried an order for the prophet's release? If anyone had heard that it was Herod's birthday, and that he was giving a great feast, and that he had offered a damsel the choice of whatever she wished, and that thereupon a messenger had been sent to John's dungeon―if anyone, I say, had heard this, what would he have supposed? He would have concluded that the damsel had asked and obtained John's freedom. What hath merry-making in common with cruelty? or pleasure-seeking with death-dealing? While the banquet was in progress, the prophet was hurried to his doom, by an order from the reveller whom he had not troubled even by a prayer for release. He was slain with the sword, and his head was served up in a charger. This was the new dish demanded by a cruelty which the banquet had been powerless to glut.
Look, O cruel king, and see a decoration which suiteth well thy banquet! Stretch forth thine hand, and touch the head of death at thy feast. So as to lose no part of the luxury of cruelty, let the streams of his sacred blood run between thy fingers. Thine hunger the dinner hath been unable to satisfy; thy cups have not been able to quench thine inhuman thirst; drink the blood still flowing from the palpitating veins of this sacred head. Look at the eyes! Even in death they remain the witness of thine uncleanness, albeit they have made haste to close themselves upon the spectacle of thy pleasures. Those eyes are closing, but, as it were, not so much from death, as from horror at thine enjoyment. That golden mouth, whose bloodless lips are silent now, can repeat no more the denunciation which thou couldest not bear to hear! But even yet thou art afraid of their unspoken judgments!