John the Baptist was probably quite annoying at times. We can almost imagine Herod talking to him, afraid, yet inexplicably drawn to John by a sense of passion and direction that was missing in Herod's own life. When John confronted Herod about his illegal marriage to Herodias, his brother's wife, Herod threw John in jail. But he kept pondering John's many messages, perhaps wondering what place John had in his own life. We can imagine that Herod would sometimes have John brought up from his cell and they would have conversations that Herod never had with anyone else in his life. As Mark tells us, when Herod heard John speak, "he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him." But John was like a fly, buzzing persistently around his face and Herod did his best to continue on with his life, trying not to let John's words nag at his heart.
On his birthday, when Herod threw a party for himself, Herodias' daughter danced so wonderfully that Herod, maybe after many glasses of wine, jumped to his feet, leading the applause. As he stood there, weaving slightly, he looked around the room at his friends and with a slight swagger, promised the girl, "I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of my kingdom." When prompted by her mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist.
Herod was devastated. Not John, he thought. But he had promised in front of the entire party and he didn't want to look like a fool, after all. He tried to ignore the gnawing in his stomach and waved for the executioner, as if it was nothing. Soon, the head of John the Baptist came back.
Herod didn't go back on his extravagant promise in front of everyone. He did not "break his word" but he had lost much more. Herod had ignored the part of his heart that John was able to touch - the truth about his life.
We all have those nagging prophets in our lives, people who want to confront us with a truth we don't want to hear; people whose words put a gnawing in our stomachs as we redouble our efforts to ignore them; or sometimes simply messages we simply don't want to listen to. Why can't they just leave us alone to live our lives? Why do they keep pushing at us about justice, hunger, living simply, drinking less? Who are the prophets in our lives who tell us it isn't enough to go to Church on Sundays if we are not cherishing our vows and our spouses? How much do we want to ignore those who suggest we need a balance in our family lives or the person who tells us that our jobs should not be the center of our lives? What are the prophetic messages we are not listening to?
Today's gospel isn't about Herod - it's about ourselves. Who stands at the edge of our lives, pushing, nagging and confronting us with a truth we don't want to hear? What is the invitation for us today?
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