King Herod and John the Baptist

Matthew 14: 1-12
Jer 26: 11-16. 24 / Psa 69: 15-16, 30-31, 33-34

“This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”
(Matthew 14:2)

In our dealings for personal gain,
Or in any material pursuit,
Lord let no lies or malice obtain,
Instead help us abide by the Truth.

Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet. On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. (Matthew 14:1-12)

Reflection

It was due to his weak leadership and corrupt character that Herod got himself entangled in a trap devised by the very woman who corrupted his life. When Herodias’ daughter asked for the head of John the Baptist, she knew he could not refuse, even if he recognized John as a holy man – because he was not man enough to face the embarrassment of backing out of an oath he had made in front of his guests. And for this mistake, Herod would be haunted by his conscience for the rest of his wicked life for having an innocent man beheaded upon the whimsical request of a dancing girl. And now he was going mad, imagining that John the Baptist had risen from the dead. In the end, it was he who was losing his head.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah (first reading) and the New Testament prophet John the Baptist shared the same zeal and courage to stand up for the truth, even in the face of imminent death in the hands of people that they condemned for their wrongdoings. The opposite can only be said about those who held power over them. King Jehoiakim of Judah in Jeremiah’s time and King Herod during the time of Jesus were weaklings who could not rise above their own cowardice. They had become so blinded with power and the trappings of wealth that they could not realize their own stupidity and wickedness. A misplaced concern for public opinion was more important to them than standing up for the truth.

The lesson that the readings bring to us today is about being steadfast in our convictions and calling, whatever the circumstances that may prevail, putting our hope in the reward that will surely come. Contrary to this is the careless attitude of those in power, who act as if they are some kind of god who can snuff out life on a whim. Our modern-day Herods are the abortionists, those who advocate euthanasia, or mercy killing, and feminists who are pro-choice. They too will have their ‘reward’ coming, but in a place too horrible to describe. John the Baptist and King Herod: humility and hubris. Two contrasting characters. Whose company would you choose to keep?

Remind us always, Lord, that whatever influence we have over others comes from You; therefore, whatever power our position wields must be a responsibility for doing good. Amen.

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