They cast out many demons, and they anointed many sick people with olive oil and healed them.
Herod the king heard about these things, because the name of Jesus had become well-known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and this is why miraculous powers are at work through him.” Others were saying, “He is Elijah.” Still others were saying, “He is a prophet like one of the ancient prophets.” But when Herod heard these rumors, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised to life.”
He said this because Herod himself had arranged to have John arrested and put in prison because of Herodias, the wife of Herod’s brother Philip. Herod had married her, but John told Herod, “It’s against the law for you to marry your brother’s wife!” So Herodias had it in for John. She wanted to kill him, but she couldn’t. This was because Herod respected John. He regarded him as a righteous and holy person, so he protected him. John’s words greatly confused Herod, yet he enjoyed listening to him.
Finally, the time was right. It was on one of Herod’s birthdays, when he had prepared a feast for his high-ranking officials and military officers and Galilee’s leading residents. Herod’s daughter Herodias came in and danced, thrilling Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the young woman, “Ask me whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” Then he swore to her, “Whatever you ask I will give to you, even as much as half of my kingdom.”
She left the banquet hall and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?”
“John the Baptist’s head,” Herodias replied.
Hurrying back to the ruler, she made her request: “I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head on a plate, right this minute.” Although the king was upset, because of his solemn pledge and his guests, he didn’t want to refuse her. So he ordered a guard to bring John’s head. The guard went to the prison, cut off John’s head, brought his head on a plate, and gave it to the young woman, and she gave it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard what had happened, they came and took his dead body and laid it in a tomb.
This is such a gruesome story! And one that I have misunderstood for a long time.
It was often used when showing that “the Church” was supposed to force rulers to bend to the “will of G_d.” But, as I later learned, that’s not really what’s going on here.
Now, granted, on the surface, that’s the way it reads. But the questions that often come up are, “Which law is John referring to? And how is it binding upon a Roman leader?” As was noted above, some see this as “proof” that the Bible is a “constitution” or a legally binding document or the rule book for everyone to follow. Each page has just as much authority as any other page. That it’s G_d’s last and “official” word for creation.
I can respect that.
But I disagree.
The problem that usually arises from this type of thinking is that all of that stuff is meant for the other person - not for the one pointing those things out! That is, when we hold others to such a high degree of scrutiny, we don’t do the same for ourselves. Often times we’ll pick and choose which parts apply to us and which parts apply to others (I’m always reminded of Paul’s confrontation with Peter on this.).
So, how do we address John’s statements to Herod? First, we need to realize that Herod was Jewish. His family was Idumean and the Idumeans had circumcision forced upon them around 125 BCE. It’s known that Herod followed the Jewish law when it seemed convenient (see the above paragraph). That is why John told him it was unlawful to marry his brother's wife (see Leviticus 18.16; 20.21). This brings us to a very good point that is so often missed.
Jewish prophets mostly turned the spotlight on their own people and not the foreigners. Just a casual glance through the prophets will see this. Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Malachi, etc., all brought charges of injustice to their own people. John and Jesus did the same thing.
So, while the passage is about speaking the truth to power, the power under question is the leaders of G_d’s people - not the mayor, or governor, or other political powers. The focus is on the leaders of our churches. The focus is upon us. Some of us spend an awful lot of time and energy pointing out the failures and faults of the “heathen,” while the whole time it’s we who need to repent.
This passage also demonstrates what happens when we question our spiritual leaders. It probably won’t go well for us. We’ll make enemies. We’ll be ostracized. We’ll be overlooked, ignored. We’ll be labeled troublemakers. And some of us will even be run out of the church. I’ve seen it happen time and time again. I’ve even experienced it (shocking, I know).
But that shouldn’t stop us! This is to what we’ve been called. We are to be Christ in the world - the “Word of G_d made flesh.” And part of that calling is to expose the falseness within our own traditions. But we must start with ourselves. While I know that none of us are perfect or holier than anyone else (and that’s the first rebuttal used against us when we point out that our leaders have missed it), we still have to hold each other accountable to be the best example of Christ we can be. We must be the best of humanity.
Lastly, this story shows that the pressures of “saving face” are extremely powerful! When confronted with the truth, Herod could have repented and potentially lost the respect of his peers and wife and perhaps even his daughter. But he would have been another point in history where “new creation” was manifesting. Instead, he chose to bow to the pressures of the systems of the world and an innocent man died because of it.
But that is exactly the life Christ has called us to. “Take up your cross daily and follow me,” he said. We must “deny” ourselves, he said. If we lose our lives, we’ll save them, he said. May we have the strength and courage to do this. To be Christ to those we meet. To manifest G_d’s Realm, the new creation, in all areas of our lives. No matter what the cost.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC