Today’s Gospel reading describes a meeting of two forces that culminates in the end of John’s prophetic ministry that allows Jesus to become his successor.
Herod the tetrarch heard of the reputation of Jesus and said to his servants, “This man is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him.” (Mt. 14)
Herod was a worldly man. He lived an ostentatious, fleshy, cunning, and ambitious lifestyle. He also lived in fear. He knew that the people were listening to John and the news of Jesus’ popularity made him even more uneasy. This comparison of fear against faith, courage vs. ambition, making the moral or immoral choice is nothing new to our human condition.
John’s actions speak to us about living a life that doesn’t require dependence on human pleasures, but rather relies on what pleases God. Herod was a man out of control, easily swayed by other people’s advice if it served him. We all have a little bit of Herod in us, although we don’t want to admit it.
Who would come close to Herod in our world today? Maybe these are leaders and governments of countries that indiscriminately destroy the lives of peace-loving people for power, resources, land and money. I see the desperate results of these actions in a young Sudanese man from my church. He was kidnapped from his village at the age of seven and forced to fight someone else’s war, and sixteen years later, still longs in great unhappiness to be reunited with his family. But he has faith and he has lived the life of John the Baptist. In the pain there is hope, I tell him.
Maybe we know people in our everyday workplace who move in, cut people’s jobs; send them packing, causing displacement and anxiety to achieve personal goals. The fear of losing our job security will never come close to the fear of someone who resorts to subtle violence to get their way, for wicked people are troubled in conscience. They are victims of their own pride and vanity.
So how do we reconcile barbarous acts of injustice? Sometimes only deprivation can teach us the wonder of Christ.
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