The Beheading of John the Baptist

Today’s Gospel from St. Mark is one that I have prayed with often – the death of John the Baptist at the hands of King Herod. Pleased by a dance performed for him and his guests by the daughter of Herodias, Herod promises the girl to grant to her whatever she wishes, swearing that anything she asks will be granted. Consulting her mother, the girl asks for “the head of John the Baptist.” Unwilling to reneg on his promise and look bad in front of his friends (and the girl), Herod “promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back [John’s] head,” which the executioner does.

One of the contemplations that is part of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius is the Two Standards, in which we contemplate the standard of Christ and that of Satan. When I visualize the standard of Satan, and how we are tempted into sin, the scene from today’s Gospel is one that easily comes to mind.

What is so powerful for me about the passage is that it is clear that Herod knows full well that what he is doing is wrong. Herod knew John was a righteous and holy man and, although he was “perplexed” by John, “he liked to listn to him.” When the daughter of Herodius asks for John’s head, Herod was “deeply distressed.” Nonetheless, the power of the evil spirit was strong enough to cause Herod to kill John.

This is a good story to keep in mind. It reminds us that the power of evil is real and is strong. We need God’s grace to make good choices when confronted with the temptation to sin. Few of our temptations are to a sin as horrible as the one committed by Herod, yet we all face temptations to, in Paul’s words in Romans, “do not do what I want, but…what I hate.” Let us pray for the grace to walk always under the standard of Christ.