John the Baptist was a conscience problem for Herod. Herod wanted to kill this prophet who reminded him and others that Herod shouldn't be living with his brother's wife. However, Herod had a second flaw. He liked to be liked. It would have been unpopular to kill John. It was Herod's third flaw that is the tragic story in today's gospel. Perhaps Herod had too much to drink at his birthday party - drink often being the dangerous enemy of character and inhibition. Perhaps his delight at the young dancer aroused Herod's foolish promise to give her whatever she asked for. And certainly Herod hadn't been in shape to anticipate the murderous fury of his wife. So, Herod's fatal flaw was that he couldn't face up to the distressing spot he was in. He had made a foolish promise, which his wife took advantage of. Now he had to either incur the displeasure of the people or lose face with his wealthy guests. Doing what was right - confronting his wife - didn't enter into his calculation. A victim of pride, Herod reluctantly beheads John and delivers the head to his wife.
The message for us today can be to ask ourselves how we deal with the moral dilemmas that we face. In what areas does our conscience bother us? How might we be tempted to rationalize our behavior or to kill the prophet who challenges what we do, how we live, the choices we make?
Does this tragic story draw me to reflect a bit about my tragic flaws? What are the characteristic ways that I tend to be pulled or swayed? How is my ability to do good, to stand up for what is honorable and just, affected by what others think? How do I get caught up in the values, trends, approaches of "group think" or "crowd behavior" in even subtle ways? What is it that I do or make a part of my desiring and choosing, that weakens or clouds or dulls my conscience or the sharpness of my moral character?
Herod was afraid of John and afraid of Jesus. To let this prophet and promised Savior into his heart would simply cost him too much. Discipleship has a cost for each of us. The good news is that all Jesus really desires is to love us, to free us, and to join us more closely to his own mission from the Father to heal and gather and save. Today can be a liberating day, as we let his grace into our hearts, recognize the patterns that block our real discovery of our true happiness. The cost of freedom can be frightening, but, as always, love drives out fear.
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