Herod is described by Mark as protective of John because he knew that John was holy and righteous; Herod is certainly sympathetic and perhaps even a little afraid. It certainly appears that he feels guilty about having John killed because he believes that Jesus is John reincarnated. Herod however, cannot be trusted. Ordering the murder of John shows that Herod’s loyalty can be bought by the highest bidder. He is not truly sympathetic to anyone but himself. He made a lavish promise to his daughter because she pleased him and his guests. When her mother tells her to ask for the head of the baptist because he caused her problems; he called her and Herod out on their illicit marriage; he was a problem that needed to be solved.
Ultimately, while Herod may have been sympathetic, it wasn’t enough to save John. Herod had to save face; he promised his daughter whatever she wanted as a gift. Herod could not have foreseen what she would ask for; it was a shocking thing to ask for. He felt he had to make good on his promises in front of his guests so he wouldn’t be seen as weak. His inability to do the actual right thing cost a man his life.
I am also sure that news of John’s death rattled his followers as well as worrying Jesus and his disciples. If they killed John, what would happen to Jesus who was raising people from the dead and healing the sick?
Greed and fear are powerful motivators. Both of those dynamics are rooted in our need to protect ourselves and what we think our interests are. They are motivators of this world, motivators that the Roman empire was very good at using; they are also motivators that our own empire is very good at using.
If Herod were to be seen as weak, he could easily be removed from power, something he definitely did not want to happen; his wealth, his identity, and perhaps even his very life might have been at stake if John had been allowed to live; John was feared because he criticized the king which could lead to rebellion by him or his followers. If John were no longer in the picture, his followers would scatter without their leader.
But Jesus was not concerned with the values of the empire. His disciples sometimes lost their way, and certainly you and I sometimes lose our way as well. But like the first disciples, you and I have to remember that powers like greed and fear are NOT the values that guide our lives, at least they shouldn’t be. We have been adopted through Jesus as children of God and with that comes great responsibility. I think one of the things it means for us is that we aren’t nearly as concerned with our status or our well being in the eyes of society or empire. We aren’t afraid to stand up for the right thing because we know that we belong to Jesus who always stood up for those who didn’t have a voice. The consequences of the empire didn’t matter as much to Jesus as they did to Herod. Jesus knew that his calling from the Father was very different than being concerned with greed and fear. Jesus carried his cross for others; he was not in need of it’s salvation; but he knew that we were. And so despite the death that awaited him, he moved forward for the good of others. His call is the call that he has issued to us as well. We have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of God himself. What else could we possibly think we could earn in this life that could equal that gift? The gift of God’s Holy Spirit is a gift that is ours for all of eternity; the riches of the empire are fleeting at best.
So our call is to go out and act like the disciples we have been called to be. Herod knew John was righteous, but instead of saving a righteous man, he saved his own pride, and the righteous man died. I pray that we will never be faced with such a choice, but we are faced with choices every day that have consequences for others. The questions we have to ask ourselves are who benefits from the choices we make? What are the driving forces behind the choices we make? What choice would Jesus ask us to make?
Let us Pray:
O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who
call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand
what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and
power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ
our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, pg. 231)