Today’s Gospel passage is one I have written about before – St. Mark’s account of the beheading of John the Baptist. Coincidentally, this passage came up in discussion earlier this week during the group session of a program I’m giving at an Episcopal church, since this passage was one the participants had prayed with.
Several people commented at how disturbed they were at the passage, a disturbance I experience whenever I pray with this passage. Herod “liked to listen” to John and he feared him, “knowing him to be a righteous and holy man.” Nonetheless Herod was conscious of his position as King and Herod loved the attention, adulation and respect of the people around him. The prospect of looking bad in front of them was not an appealing one to Herod. And so, having promised Herodias’ daughter that he would give her anything she asked for as a reward for her having pleased him and his guests with her dancing, when she asks for he head of John the Baptist on a platter, “he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back the head.”
Doubtless none of us have beheaded another person, knowing it was the wrong thing to do. But, as one person commented during our discussion, the passage causes us to reflect on the fact that we are capable of doing what we know is not right, that there are temptations and influences of various kinds that can cause us to act against our better judgment. There are times when we can all say, as Paul does in Romans, “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.”
As we grow in our relationship with God, we become strengthened in our ability to meet those tempations and influences. Herod is a sober reminder of how strong those influences can be…and how great is our need for God.