Each year, on August 29th, the Christian liturgy celebrates the Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist. In case a reminder is called for, the Gospel of Mark relates that Herod was the one who arrested John, “on account of Herodias,” his brother’s wife. The Baptizer publicly censured the King and his wife proclaiming that “it was not lawful to have your brother’s wife.” Mark writes that Herodias ‘ harbored a grudge against John and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so.’
When I read the account, my sympathy lies with this King who “was very much perplexed” by John. Mark writes that Herod feared John: he knew John to be a righteous and holy man. When he heard him speak he liked to listen to him. The King recognizes just who John the Baptizer is.
And suddenly Herodias’ daughter (many claim she is Salome), enters and performs a dance that pleases Herod so much he tells the girl to ask of him anything she wants and he will grant it, even offering her half his kingdom. The daughter goes to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”
“The head of John the Baptist.”
She obediently hastens back to the king and said, “I want you to give me the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
We read that Herod is “deeply distressed but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his promise to her.”
All too easily, I can place myself in the shoes of Herod. It’s a party, after all, with all the most influential people I know partaking of the largess of my kingdom and it’s my birthday!
The wine is flowing liberally, I am drinking far more than my portion when suddenly I see something so beautiful that it stops my heart. And when I open my mouth, reason disappears leaving behind only foolishness and an unbridled tongue. The minute I made the promise, I regret it knowing that it will come back and demand far more than I am prepared to give.
These stories are always mirrors…I suspect that I am not alone in having placed myself in a corner with promises that never should have been made. And worse?
Like Herod, foolishly delivering on the promise.
For Fr. Chris yesterday at daily mass, the phrase that echoed to him was, “I’ll give you half my kingdom.” The exact phrase heard from Satan to Christ during the Temptation in the Desert.
The priest was looking at this Gospel passage from the perspective of the young girl. Here she is offered something extraordinary, a power beyond any she had ever dreamed of.
She was given a gift and a choice: The power of evil versus good, life versus death. She chose evil, death.
Through our Baptism, each day, we also are given extraordinary power.
What do we choose?
Whom will we please?