Herod and John the Baptist

Mark 6: 14-29
Heb 13:1-8 / Psa 27

“John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”
(Mark 6:16)

Be careful with the vows you make,
Or face the consequence to choose:
The promise that you cannot break,
Or reputation that you’ll lose!

King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” Others said, “He is Elijah.” And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.” But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” She answered, “The head of John the Baptist.” At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:14-29)


This King Herod was certainly no different from his father, the first King Herod (“the Great”), who ordered the murder of all Jewish baby boys two years old and younger in Bethlehem and its vicinity in order to eliminate what he perceived to be a threat to his throne (Mt.2:16). But St. John the Baptist was never a threat to the throne of this Herod (Antipas). His death was the result of a woman’s hatred, and a ruler’s lack of prudence and principles.

King Herod here appeared to be losing his mind. He thought Jesus was St. John who had been raised from the dead. He was tormented by his conscience for murdering an innocent and holy man in order to fulfill a foolish promise he made to Salome, the daughter of his illegitimate wife Herodias in front of his guests during his birthday bash. Men of power can turn into the biggest fools when it comes to the wiles of women. King Herod knew that John the Baptist was a holy man, and was even afraid of him. But because of his misplaced sense of values, he allowed a mere dancer to ruin his soul. Such was the curse of adultery that befell him. St. John lost his head, but gained eternal glory; Herod lost his soul, and gained eternal ridicule.

There are at least two lessons that we learn in today’s Gospel passage of Mark. The first is: the sin of adultery almost always leads to greater sins, like murdering a holy and blameless man. King Herod brought himself into the dilemma of committing a grievous crime or facing the shame of breaking a promise made in front of his guests. Unfortunately, he chose what he thought was the easier way out, and this choice consigned him to eternal damnation.

The second lesson is: the life of a righteous man is never meant to be an easy one. St. John the Baptist was the first martyr for the Truth because he spoke out fearlessly against adultery, and was in fact the last and greatest precursor of our Savior, Jesus Christ. All the martyrs and saints in the history of the Church suffered and died for their conviction and unwavering faith. As our Lord stated in no uncertain terms: “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me” (Mt.10:38). King Herod might have reigned in power for more than 40 years, but in the end, he was one of the greatest losers. This goes for all the tyrants in history.

Grant us the grace, Lord God, to choose wisely between what is good but difficult and what is sinful and easy or pleasurable. We have learned that power and wealth can so easily corrupt, and yet, being human, we have the tendency to desire them. May the example of the life and conviction of St. John the Baptist inspire us to aspire for the more essential and eternal values in life. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.

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