The twenty-first chapter of the Qur’an opens with the last of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist.
Time moves backwards as we meet his father Zechariah, other prophets, and and Tubal-Cain, and finally the moments before Creation. The Holy Spirit gives and we receive. The Holy Spirit overshadows the waters, overshadows Mary, and uses the prophets as mouthpieces. Through the Holy Spirit all things have immortality: the delights of the world will be for the just, but the wicked will see hell burn all the hotter for the creation they perverted.
The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
A Reading, from the Book of Genesis:
Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden. And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son — Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad; and Irad begot Mehujael, and Mehujael begot Methushael, and Methushael begot Lamech.
Then Lamech took for himself two wives: the name of one was Adah, and the name of the second was Zillah. And Adah bore Jabal. He was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal. He was the father of all those who play the harp and flute. And as for Zillah, she also bore Tubal-Cain, an instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron. And the sister of Tubal-Cain was Naamah.
Then Lamech said to his wives:
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
Wives of Lamech, listen to my speech!
For I have killed a man for wounding me,
Even a young man for hurting me.
If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold,
Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”
A Psalm, from the Psalms:
For evildoers shall be cut off;
But those who wait on the LORD,
They shall inherit the earth.
For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more;
Indeed, you will look carefully for his place,
But it shall be no more.
But the meek shall inherit the earth, And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.
A reading, from the Second Letter of St Peter:
Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying,
“Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”
For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and
standing out of water
and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished,
being flooded with water.
But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
2 Peter 3:3-7
A Reading, from the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew
For Herod had laid hold of John and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. Because John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And although he wanted to put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet.
But when Herod’s birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask.
So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.”
And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her. So he sent and had John beheaded in prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. Then his disciples came and took away the body and buried it, and went and told Jesus.
And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”
A Qur’anic Homily
The Specific: John the Baptist and Herod Antipas
These are the last days. They have been the last days since the interrogation of John the Baptist, in front of the idiot Herod Antipas, whose heart was so set on magic tricks and his eyes on a belly dance that his ears missed the Word of the Spirit.
Mankind’s reckoning has drawn near to them, yet they are disregardful in obliviousness. There does not come to them any new reminder from their Lord but the listen to it as they play around, their hearts set on diversions. The wrongdoers secretly whisper together, “Is this not just a human being like yourselves? Will you give in to magic with open eyes?”
He said, “My Lord knows every word in the heaven and on the earth ,and He is the All-hearing, the All-knowing.”
But they said,
“He has indeed fabricated it!”
“He is indeed a poet!”
“Let him bring us a sign like those sent to the former generations.”
The way this all began — the way the world was created — certainly was for men like John the Baptist. But not for Herod Antipas, not for the squandering of creation but rather the glorification of God through it. The serpent may bight now, but Christ and His Mother will crush its head.
We did not create the heaven and the earth and whatever is between them for play. Had We desired to take up some diversions We would have taken it up with Ourselves, were We to do. Indeed, We hurl the Truth against falsehood, and it crushes its head, and behold, falsehood vanishes! And woe to you for what you allege.
But let’s think more of Herod Antipas. Yes, he wanted to see magic tricks. Yes, he enjoyed a lap dance. Yes, he was foolish in promises. But — he wanted to hear. And later, he wondered if Jesus could be John, raised from the dead. Herod remembered what people said of the prophets. Even a man as lost as he could still see — dimly — the consequences of the Lord God, of life returned:
Have they taken gods from the earth who raise the dead? Had there been any gods in them other than God, they would surely have fallen apart. Clear is God, the Lord of the Throne, of what they allege.
The Pattern: Zachariah and Tubal-Cain
But the stories of John the Baptist and Herod Antipas are not just of one man executed by another. Consider another pair, separated by thousands of years: the father of John the Baptist and (one might say) the father of Herod Antipas. John’s father was Zachariah, a priest, and a righteous man.
And Zechariah, when he cried out to his Lord, “My Lord! Do not leave me without an heir and You are the best of inheritors.’ So We answered his prayer and gave him John and cured for him his wife. They were indeed active in good works, and they would supplicate Us with eagerness and awe and were humble before Us.
But God’s credit does not end at the gift of a child. He also gave things that are missed. The Qur’anic author gives God credit for the invention of armor, which in the Biblical tradition is associated with Tubal-Cain. Tubal’s name is given to the land of Tubal, governed by Prince Gog of Magog. And as a man, Tubal-Cain was intermediary between the murderer Cain and the murderer Lamech:
We taught him the making of coats of mail for you, to protect you from your violence. Will you then be grateful?
There’s a pattern here, a pattern of what is good and how man uses it. How man receives the gifts of the Spirit. For the things that protect man cannot save him apart from God:
Do they have gods besides Us to defend them? Neither can they help themselves, nor can they shield from Us. We have indeed provided for them and their fathers until they lived on for long hears. Do they not see how We visited the land diminishing it at its edges? Are they the ones who will prevail?
And no deed done, for God, is without reward
Whoever is faithful and does righteous deeds, his endeavor shall not go unappreciated, and We will indeed record it for him.
Cain’s lineage is an early split in humanity: there’s an Enoch descended from Cain, and another Enoch who judged angles. Tubal-Cain is removed in bot ancestry and age from Zechariah. But as Jesus wished that we and He could be One as He and the Father are One, to the Qur’anic author reminds us of our common Lord and our common call. Catholics today may dare to hope that all may be saved — the Qur’anic author seemed to, as well.
This community of yours is indeed one community and I am your Lord. So worship Me. They have fragmented their religion among themselves; everyone of them will return to Us.
The Elemental: The Spirit and the Deep
So see the pattern.
John the Baptist and Herod the Great. The prophet, and he who misused creation. For one, his life on earth was but the earliest part of his glory. For the other, the deeds of the earth are the makings of his torment.
And continue to Zechariah, and Tubal-Cain. Both famous fathers, one of John the Baptist, the other of armor. From God we have the greatness of what they crafted, his family and his ironworks. Zechariah, being faithful to God, sees the lasting legacy be something he intended. Tubal-Cain sees the kind parts of his invention remembered, while the cruelties have no life of their own.
This pattern extends beyond the material world. John baptized with water, the symbol of chaos, the thing over which the Spirit of God hovered at Creation:
Have the faithless not regarded the heavens and the earth were interwoven and We unraveled them, and We made every living thing out of water? Will they not then have faith?
The Spirit of God, who also overshadowed Mary:
And her who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her of Our Spirit, and made her and her Son a sign for all the nations.
This combination of Spirit and the Deep — the life from beyond this world and the matter within this world — will either be the very thing that makes Hell so hot, or the very delights of paradise.
The Deep received the Spirit and, through Him, Creation.
Mary received the Spirit and, through Him, Jesus.
But human deeds and will, twisted, burn in the presence of the Spirit, for only Spirit upholds their existence, and the Spirit’s love to the wicked is as unquenchable fire.
Indeed, you and what you worship besides God will be fuel for hell, and you will enter it. Had they been gods, they would not have entered it, and they will all remain in it. Their lot therein will be groaning, and they will not hear anything in it.
So turn away from sin! Turn toward the Holy Spirit! The whole earth is given to you, as Christ’s life was given for you!
Certainly we wrote in the Psalms, after the Torah: “My righteous servants shall indeed inherit the earth.”
Even the end of the world, Gog and Magog, are part of the plan. With the Spirit all things will come to completion. Life and death, the Virgin Mary and Christ Jesus, the Natural World and the Supernatural Sacraments, all things are moved by the Spirit toward His ends!
It is forbidden for any town that We have destroyed: they shall not return until when Gog and Magog are let loose and they race down from every slope
The twenty-first chapter of the Qur’an, “The Prophets,” concerns the spokesmen for the Holy Spirit. The Qur’an author teaches that the Holy Spirit is at work in all things. The Qur’an’s author had earlier described the “We Believe,” the Nicene Creed, as emblematic of the rival non-Arian theology that he criticized. But in “The Prophets,” the Qur’anic author meets the Council, perhaps, halfway:
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life… who has spoken through the prophets.