The Herod family reminds one of a multitude of usurping national leaders who come to power by a coup d’état and create dynasties whose authority is cemented by fear and oppression. Herod “the Great” was such a person. He was not even Jewish, but he seized the throne, married a sibling of the legitimate ruling family, later exterminated that family, and even sought to kill the infant Jesus. At his death, the rather small geographical area we now call the Holy Land and its environs were divided between Herod’s surviving sons, who served at Rome’s pleasure. Although Herod the Great had rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem, observant Jews regarded him with deep suspicion. His sons inherited the father’s reputation. Herod Antipas ruled in Galilee. Jesus called him a “fox.” Herod Antipas had his followers, naturally called Herodians. Unlike the Pharisees, their object was not religious purity but the preservation of political power.
|First reading and psalm: Amos 7:7-15
Alternate: 2 Sam. 6:1-5, 12b-19 • Ps. 24
Eph. 1:3-14 • Mark 6:14-29
In today’s readings we learn how Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, met his end. The ever-outspoken prophet had rebuked Herod for his affair with his brother’s wife and had been arrested promptly. Herod seems to have entertained a somewhat superstitious fascination with John, keeping him locked up but curious to hear what he had to say. That way John was no threat to Herod’s power and authority, but served a certain entertaining function. Then the daughter of Herod’s mistress seized the opportunity of a lavish dinner, where food was plenty and alcohol flowing. The amoral king, bedazzled by Salome’s sensuous dance routine, offered to give the girl anything her heart desired. The mother, grasping this opportunity for revenge, demanded the head of her nemesis, John the Baptist. Perhaps to his favor, Herod was grieved. Yet fearful that mercy might be regarded as weakness, he agreed. And the head of the Baptist was brought to him on a platter.
When Jesus’ renown came to Herod’s attention, Herod immediately assumed that Jesus was John’s ghost. Here began Herod’s fearing, superstitious relationship with our Lord. It is a story oft repeated throughout the history of the Church, even to this day. One thinks of Hitler, Stalin, contemporary tyrants in the Middle East, military dictators in South America, and a host more. Christianity may be tolerated as long as it is personal and private, out of the public view and non-intrusive. But when it threatens it is to be exterminated. Often the Church has surrendered its prophetic voice of conscience to secular rulers and governments. Those who have dared announce the kingdom of God in contrast to the tyrannies of men have suffered and died for their faith. Neither Jesus nor his disciples then and now are “meek and mild.” Gentle, yes. Compassionate, yes. Loving, always. Yet the gospel threatens and threatened people strike back. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.
O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Look It Up
Read Luke 1:39-45.
Think About It
Pray for the grace to live Christian lives and to endure rejection and even persecution.