King Herod heard of the healings and other miracles, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, ‘John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’ But others said, ‘It is Elijah.’ And others said, ‘It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’ But when Herod heard of it, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.’
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.’ And he solemnly swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.’ She went out and said to her mother, ‘What should I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the baptizer.’ Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him.
One of the worst phrases we can ever utter is: I can never forgive. This notion of the ‘unforgiveable’ permeates so much of our daily lives. We hear it reported in the media, it provides the central plot line for much of the fiction we see, hear or read, and it dominates the way some of us live out our daily lives. Of course, people do inhumane and spiteful things to each other. When such things occur we do feel a sense of profound anger at the cruelty some people can inflict upon others, and particularly upon those who are weaker than themselves. But, no matter how dreadful the action of the wrongdoer, Jesus says: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. In another moment in the gospel narrative there is this exchange between Jesus and Peter: Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Jesus’ response to Peter’s question is significant because the phrase seventy-seven times was linguistic code for ‘times without number’.
Jesus’ command to forgive and love are not just words. They are demonstrated in all his words and actions. He touched the untouchable, he dined with the sinner, he welcomed the persecutor and he forgave those who nailed him to the cross. Forgiveness is not easy, and our nature is not divine, but it is the ideal towards which we are called to strive.
In today’s reading we see the consequence of Herodias’ anger at John the Baptist. As a result of his preaching the Jewish law, he is imprisoned and then, through subterfuge, he is brutally executed. This terrible action is routed in an inability to forgive on the part of Herodias, and Herod’s failure to stand up for what is right.
Yesterday we turned our focus from the crib to the cross. Today we are being invited to expunge ourselves of one of the most evil aspects of human nature, that of unquenchable anger. We get angry at so many petty things. We seethe as we see and hear people following different lifestyles. We become resentful at those who lives appear to be more successful and fulfilled than our own. So quickly we adopt the nature of Herodias, turning our backs on the nature of Christ.
Let us pray that we might strive to follow Jesus’ commandments to forgive and love. Let us pray that we might remove the filters that cause us to see others in a perpetually negative light. Let us pray that we might play our part in bringing about the new earth in which God’s way of living can and should prevail.