Herod was the one who had John the Baptist arrested and bound in prison
on account of Herodias,
the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married.
John had said to Herod,
“It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”
Herodias harbored a grudge against him
and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so.
Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man,
and kept him in custody.
When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed,
yet he liked to listen to him.
O foolish King Herod, you’ve forgotten your own dignity!
As king, you’ve noticed a great respect offered by your people – they enter your palace and exclaim: “Hail, King Herod!” Yes, they love you, or at least they love your seat of honor and your wealth. And why wouldn’t they? For you throw exquisite banquets in the finest halls with the most decadent foods and wines, and you make sure to invite your closest friends. You’ve even realized how mighty is the power of your influence, for the wife of your lowly brother has left him for you, leaving his lowliness for your greatness.
Yes, it must feel so good to surround yourself with so many people who are attracted to your power and wealth. In fact, it seems this power and wealth have become your very identity: it seems you are power and wealth, and everyone accepts that. Yet there is one who challenges that notion and makes it known that he believes otherwise. He knows your true identity as a son of God and he knows this identity calls you to greater purpose than merely exercising your power in such a way that allows you to live a life of pleasure with your supposed friends.
But you’ve forgotten all of that – at least on the surface – and want to hear nothing further on the matter, so you do what anyone else would do if their identity was challenged: you take care of the problem. Except you have convinced yourself of your own goodness by holding him in prison rather than killing him. Of course, this noble act by such a noble king has set up your current predicament.
She had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday,
gave a banquet for his courtiers,
his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee.
Herodias’ own daughter came in
and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests.
The king said to the girl,
“Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.”
He even swore many things to her,
“I will grant you whatever you ask of me,
even to half of my kingdom.”
She went out and said to her mother,
“What shall I ask for?”
She replied, “The head of John the Baptist.”
The girl hurried back to the king’s presence and made her request,
“I want you to give me at once
on a platter the head of John the Baptist.”
The king was deeply distressed,
but because of his oaths and the guests
he did not wish to break his word to her.
Your life of pleasure has led you to make a promise to this girl worth up to as much as half your kingdom. She, also not knowing her own dignity, is convinced by her power-seeking mother to ask for the head of this one man, who only wants you to know your own dignity. You’re stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place because you’ve made such a promise in the midst of all of your apparent friends, and going back on that promise would mean a huge hit for your reputation. Yet you don’t want to actually kill the man. What are you to do?!
O foolish King Herod, if only you knew your own dignity! Then you would see that the life of this man is worth more than half of your kingdom – the girl has asked for more than you promised! You don’t have to grant her request! If only you had focused yourself on the Kingdom of Heaven rather than on your earthly kingdom! Then you would see how great is the man you have been holding in prison simply for proclaiming the truth to you and calling you on to a life of righteousness. As it is, you have sought only pleasure and so desire only to keep your reputation among your supposed friends. The Baptist, too, will stick to his role as the forerunner for the true King and pave His way even to the point of an innocent death.
So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders
to bring back his head.
He went off and beheaded him in the prison.
He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl.
The girl in turn gave it to her mother.
When his disciples heard about it,
they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
St. John the Baptist, pray for us from Heaven! Pray that we might not seek to live lives of pleasure, but instead lives grounded in the truth of the Gospels. Pray that we might not seek to build up our own little kingdoms, but instead strive to build up the Kingdom of Heaven.