August 1, 2020
by Tom Shanahan, S.J.
Creighton University's Athletics Department
click here for photo and information about the writer

Saint Alphonsus Liguouri, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Lectionary: 406

Jeremiah 26:11-16, 24
Psalms 69:15-16, 30-31, 33-34
Matthew 14:1-12
Praying Ordinary Time

Weekly Guide for Daily Prayer

Enjoying Vacation Time

The gospel today confronts us with a grizzly, violent and disturbing drama.  Herod the tetrarch, the ruler of a quarter of the land that Jesus would travel in his lifetime, Herodias, his wife, and Salome, her daughter, and John the Baptizer are the principal players in this history.

The opening scene takes place at a feast held by Herod with lots of fine foods, alcoholic beverages and much over-imbibing by the host and his guests.  As part of an oft-told story, the drink turns into prideful overindulgence which initiates the totally unacceptable scene that follows, and the poor choices that followed. 

Herod, clearly over-served, begins to show off.  Enthralled by the overtly erotic dancing of his stepdaughter, Salome, the tetrarch made an incredibly foolish choice.  He asked the girl to name a gift that he could bestow on her, “even to half of my kingdom”.   Her mother had set up Salome to entice the besotted ruler to do what the mother deeply desired. Now Herodias hated John.  John had pointed out to her and Herod that their marriage was a disgrace and against the law. Philip, the first husband, was the brother of Herod.  For Herod to marry Herodias was illegitimate and contrary to the revered customs of the day.

Herod fell into a vicious plan she had concocted.  Herodias counseled the daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist!  This stunning request resonated through the alcohol to a spot in Herod’s heart; he liked John, or maybe more accurately, he did not hate him as much as she did. 

So, thickening the plot, Herod, not wanting to lose face in front of his rich and powerful guests, gives in to his bravado.  Herodias, true to the skullduggery she had been planning, and a backlash to the judgment John expressed in his confrontation of the ruling couple. Herodias makes her dark request to the dancer, Salome.

In the next scene, the daughter returns to the feasting hall carrying the severed head of the Baptist on a platter.  She presents this gift to her mother.

What shall we draw from the drama Matthew recounts for us?  There is no subtlety here.  The whole affair is rife with strong contradictions in the events of the story.

Most likely, we will not have to be confronted with the deeply dark levels of activities central to this gruesome history: murder, lying, deadly deception, extreme evil, vicious violence and raucous retribution.  But, how about those times that we are met by the push/pull of looking good in the minds of those we know?  What are the incidents of pride that intertwine with our thoughts and actions?  We are subject to anger and the call to be less than truthful that menace us from near and far. We can dissemble like Herod, give in to the moment. Or, we can seek to discover and use the God-given gifts at the core of our being.

Loving God, teach us your ways and give us the courage to live faithful to your call to live and love as Jesus taught us and as your Holy Spirit invites us.

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