Herod and John the Baptist

Today’s Gospel is Mark’s account of the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist and it is a reading that has always disturbed me. What disturbs me about it is the strength of the seductiveness of sin, the power of the temptation to turn away from God, that is illustrates.

Herod knew John to be “a righteous and holy man.” Although he was perplexed by much of what John said, “he liked to listen to him.” He clearly was intrigued by John. And so when he is asked by Herodias’ daughter for the head of the Baptist, he is “deeply distressed.” When I pray with this passage, I can feel Herod’s conflict when he hears her request. Nevertheless, he gives the girl what she asks for.

Herod knew full well that killing John was wrong…but he did it anyway. Lust for the girl, the need to look good in front of his guests, pride – all combine into too large a temptation for Herod to avoid the evil act. The story is a good reminder of the power of the forces that tempt people away from the path of light and love.