Matthew 14:1-12 • St Alphonsus Liguori (Memorial)
It sounds as though the death of John the Baptist haunted the thoughts of King Herod. Why else would the rumours about Jesus and his activities have led him to think that John had risen from the dead? It is not surprising that this might have happened to Herod given the circumstances of the Baptist’s death. Herod seemed to have had a certain admiration and fascination for John, even though John was critical of his behaviour. In other circumstances, Herod would probably not have tolerated such criticism, but there was something about John that made him withhold his hand. In the end, however, Herod was lured into bringing about the prophet’s death by his own pride and probably his sexual appetites.
What made Herod make such extravagant promises to Herodias’ daughter in the presence of his guests and officials? Tradition suggests that there were lustful thoughts in his heart which caused him to throw reason to the wind. Promising ‘even half my kingdom’ sounds like an unconsidered emotional reaction (cf. Mark 6:23). One wonders what he would have done if Herodias’ daughter had actually asked for half the kingdom. Reason might tell us that Herod would have said, ‘Don’t be silly, girl, I was using a figure of speech – I want to be generous to you, but don’t take what I said literally.’
Sometimes we might find ourselves saying, ‘I’ll do [or I’ll give you] anything you want!’ We usually mean ‘within reason’! But Herod had an eye also on his guests and officials. He was afraid that if he backed down he would be diminished in their eyes. So he let his decision be ruled, not by reason and good judgement, but by pride, fear of what others would think and his emotions. He agreed to have John beheaded in prison and, in accordance with the dancer’s bizarre request, delivered his head on a plate. Ultimately, Herod was giving in to the revengeful desire of his wife Herodias, but he was also in a bad place even before the violent request.
Can we recognize in this scene something of the patterns of sin in our own lives? For example, are we inclined to depart from right behaviour because of the fear and pressure of how others see us? Do we allow strong emotional desires, be they sexual or other wants, to overcome our reason and moral sense?
Father, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Leviticus 25:1, 8-17 • Psalm 66(67):2-8