Rev'd Philip Heak
I must admit, that anytime I go to a restaurant, and the meal is presented in a silver platter, I always think of the story of John the Baptist, and secretly hope that there is no head underneath the platter.
Today we are going to learn about Herod, Herodias, Salome and John the Baptist. To say it’s a juicy story filled with intrigue and scandal, is to do it an injustice.
There are two Herods in our Gospels. Herod the Great, who was alive at the time of Jesus’ birth and who ordered the murder of the Innocents and Herod Antipas the Herod of our Gospel reading today who had John the Baptist killed and was complicit in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.
The story that the gospels, as well as the Roman historian Josephus, tell is that he is the Herod who got into deep political controversy with John the Baptist.
John was mad at Herod for several reasons; but the one that really stuck in John’s craw was Herod’s marriage to Herodias. Herodias was both Herod’s brothers wife and Herod’s niece. And his divorce and subsequent marriage to Herodias had caused a disastrous war and loss of life.
John publicly accused this famous couple of “adultery and incest” and that was enough to turn Herodias practically purple with rage.
Herod was too scared of the people to execute John, so he had him thrown into prison.
But fear was only part of the picture. He was fascinated by John and couldn’t help sneaking out in secret to hear John ranting in his old, dark prison cell.
The portrait Mark paints is of a man who is transfixed with the very thing he fears and despises. “When he heard him,” Mark says, .. .he was greatly perplexed, and yet he liked to listen to him.
Unfortunately this fascination was not enough to convince him to change his life; and the day Herod decided to throw a birthday party for himself to end all birthday bashes, he unwittingly set in motion forces the consequences of which he could never have foreseen.
The undercurrent of all of this was that the end was coming to Herod – his evil deeds would get the better of him, even though he did not know it at the time.
Apparently, it was a banquet done in a fashion bound to impress all of Herod’s political cronies and enemies and to offend the religiously scrupulous.
The climax was when Herodias’ daughter Salome, who was actually Herod’s niece as well, danced an apparently suggestive dance that was meant to arouse Herod and make him vulnerable to suggestion.
Salome’s mother saw it as the chance she had been waiting for. Caught up in the moment like a dirty-old man and macho ruler, Herod gave in to both his lust and his pride by following through on an oath to Salome to give her anything she wanted. Herodias made sure that it was John’s head on a platter that “she wanted”; and that, as they say, was the end of John the Baptist.
Or so everyone thought.
By the time Mark tells us this story, John has been dead for some time and Jesus has been actively preaching his own message throughout Galilee.
Although Herod apparently didn’t know Jesus, he knew that something equally as powerful as John was stirring out there among the people.
…when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
This is what Mark wants to tell us. Herod is consumed by guilt over what he has done.
Evil will bring about its own demise.
Herod’s own actions have engendered in him a deep-seated fear about the results of his deed. He interprets what he hears about Jesus by imagining John having come back to get him. He is becoming imprisoned in his own fear.
His own evil is beginning to destroy him. – like Stalin whose own bodyguards didn’t go near his body for hours in case he was still alive! Or Hitler, trapped in a bunker by all accounts having lost control of himself.
Nor is this merely a story to tip us off about what is likely to befall Jesus in the end too.
Of course, a similar fate is going to befall Jesus, as it befalls anybody with the courage to speak truth to the powerful. But that is not something Mark’s church would ever have questioned.
They would have had one very pertinent question though – that still resonates today.
Would following Jesus and speaking the truth to loveless power ever make any difference in the end?
The answer, Mark gives us, is an overwhelming YES.
Mark says that even defenceless, unarmed, de-capitated, dead men, like John the Baptist, come back to haunt the powerful of this world.
Jesus died on the cross, but his resurrection brings eternal life to billions of people. When Jesus was crucified, death did its best to destroy him, but instead the death of Jesus brought life through his resurrection.
Evil, the privation of Good. Evil is ultimately, is self-defeating.
If we look to our own world history, we can see too that EVIL does ultimately destroy itself, although it does seem to be the tragedy of the human race, that another evil will be raised in its stead.
However, that should never stop us from supporting what is right. The Desmond Tutus, the Mahat Ma Ghandis and the Martin Luther Kings of this world, dare I even say it the Charles Stewart Parnells and Daniel O’Connells of this world show that right can and will prevail.
Mahat ma Ghandi, had a deeply held conviction of non violent protest – Gandhi had a profound belief, not just that love would eventually conquer, but that evil would defeat itself. “When I despair,” he said,
“I remember that throughout history tyrants and dictators have always failed in the end.”
Herod Antipas eventually fell from grace and ended his days in exile in Gaul. In a bitter irony, what little we know of him, comes from the words of the Gospel that ultimately, he tried to repress.
Somehow, I doubt if any of us today will be having our Sunday Dinner presented to us on a silver platter but please remember from the story of John the Baptist, Herod Antipas, his wife Herodias and daughter Salome. It teaches us that evil will ultimately destroy itself and Good will triumph. Following Jesus and speaking the truth to loveless power will transform this world in the end.
As the Easter Anthems put it
Christ once raised from the dead dies no more:
death has no more dominion over him.
4 In dying he died to sin once for all:
in living he lives to God.
5 See yourselves therefore as dead to sin:
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
6 Christ has been raised from the dead:
the first fruits of those who sleep.
7 For as by man came death:
by man has come also the resurrection of the dead;
8 for as in Adam all die: even so in Christ shall all be made alive.