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People often debate whether a world governed by women would be a more peaceful place! Certainly not with the likes of Herodias in the equation.
Herod had bound John in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, for he had married her. John had said to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife."
Therefore Herodias held it against John and wanted to kill him, but Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him and heard him gladly.
Then an opportune day came when Herod on his birthday gave a feast for his nobles, and chief men of Galilee. When Herodias' daughter danced and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, "Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you, up to half my kingdom."
So she went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask?" And she said, "The head of John the Baptist!" The king was exceedingly sorry; yet, because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her.
Immediately the king sent an executioner and he went and beheaded John in prison and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother.
King Herod heard of Him [Jesus], for His name had become well known. And Herod said, "This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead!"
Mark 6:17-28, 14-16 NKJV, condensed
Speaking Truth to Power
Both John the Baptist and Jesus were larger than life. Angels had announced their births, six months apart, with awesome prophecies. John was the forerunner, the voice crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way for the Lord." He baptized with water in the Jordan River. Jesus was the promised One, begotten of God, who taught in the towns and villages of Galilee. He would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. They each attracted huge crowds. One was water, the other fire. Those were exciting days. The faithful, not the leadership but the rest of the people, were full of expectation.
While Jesus took on the religious authorities and condemned them relentlessly, John had hard words for Herod who served at the pleasure of the Roman Caesar. This was Antipas Herod, the ruler of Galilee and son of king Herod the Great who played a part in the Christmas story. John had the audacity to try and purify the political scene, telling Herod he was in the wrong for stealing the heart of his brother's wife. The love triangle in the palace led to the underhanded arrest of John while he was baptizing out in the desert.
Jesus and John would both die for their outspokenness. John a year or two sooner than Jesus, because Herod got more than he bargained for when he married Herodias. Herod and Herodias did not agree in their opinions of the purifier. Herod left the door open, something about John intrigued him; Herodias slammed the door shut, bolted it and threw away the key. She was quick and decisive, and recognized an opportunity when she saw one.
The story could be told in a newspaper headline--Dancing Girl Makes Head Roll. The girl was Herodias' daughter; the head belonged to John. Totally unplanned and with little thought to consequences. it all happened so suddenly.
Herod had a birthday and invited the Who's Who in Galilee and beyond to a royal celebration. Amid all the lavishness of friends, food, drink and the enticing dancing girls, Herod lost his senses. By party's end he was backed into a corner by his gem of a wife and as strange as it may sound, his "honor" compelled him to order the beheading of John.
Herodias rejoiced while the masses mourned. Herod sobered up and agonized over his impotence. Those eyes which had been blinded by love were wide open now. Herod and Herodias got what they wanted but afterwards didn't want what they got. God doesn't have to send us to hell for punishment. Life has its own way of paying us back for the sins we commit. Her laughter would not last long with all that "water over the dam." His guilt would not leave him alone, either. When Herod heard about Jesus, he thought Jesus was John come back from the dead to haunt him.
This is a tragic story. Our hero was struck down and for what? A righteous man died, evilness remained very much alive. At times like that, people look for answers and cry, "Why? Is there no God in heaven!" For John and those who loved and believed in him, it was an abrupt, violent, frightening death. Stupid really, because it made no sense.
Hopes rise; hope fades. God may be great--we force ourselves to say it because we want to believe it, even though life is neither good nor fair. How can it be that the innocent are victimized by the guilty? It was a warning too for Jesus and spoke volumes about the fragileness of his own life. After John's death, Jesus continued on and would soon turn his face toward Jerusalem where the fire would burn its way to the Temple, the Sanhedrin and chief officials, and right into the courtyard of the Most High Priest. Then Pilate and Herod sent him back and forth until a final verdict was reached: Crucify him.
This time, the Righteous One did come back from the dead, not to haunt us and prolong the guilt, but to liberate us from our sins and propel all who are willing into his victorious new life.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: What is the biggest promise you ever made?
Based on this Scripture passage, what is your opinion of Herod? Of Herodias?
Repression--Have you seen it in the news lately? If so, who/what is being repressed and why?
What is one bit of truth you would like to speak to someone in power? --in national government --locally --at your house of worship --maybe to someone in your school or family
If you have spoken your bit of truth to the person in power, what was the result? If you haven't made your voice heard, should you do so? Ask your group to help you develop a plan of action.
St Paul admonishes us in Ephesians 4:15 to "speak the truth in love." Does that counsel apply to the things you want to say to those in power? If so, how does it apply and what would it look like? If it's not appropriate for those situations, why isn't it?
Is there any truth-speaking you would be willing to die for?
Make a list of heroes you know of who died at the hands of evil people. Compare or contrast any of these people to the experience of John.
Describe the mood in your local community when an innocent person is abused or killed by a "guilty" person, or when someone on the national scene is violently killed. For example, what was the reaction in 1968 when Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot to death? Do you think John the Baptist was mourned in the same way?
Explain how it is that someone like Herod would feel honor bound to keep a publicly made promise, and yet not feel honor bound to prevent an unjustified execution?
When, Where, and How will justice ultimately be done?