By Ken Asel
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 14:1-12
1 At that time Herod the ruler heard reports about Jesus; 2 and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 3 For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 because John had been telling him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet. 6 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod 7 so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” 9 The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given; 10 he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. 11The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother. 12 His disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus.
The gospel tells the horrific story of the death of John the Baptizer. The scene is well-known and unsettling in its grotesqueness. After the prophet’s beheading, several disciples of John obtain the remains of the Baptizer, bury him, then go to tell Jesus.
We never learn what Jesus does next. Matthew’s silence seems to point, however, to the Lord’s profound grief over the death of his cousin. Does Jesus retreat to a quiet place to reflect and weep? Here we see the savior of humankind, facing the enormity of a personal loss. At first there is silence; Jesus does not immediately speak to the crowd. There are no words in the face of this injustice. It is a foreshadowing of an even greater travesty yet to come in a matter of a few weeks.
This story is a tale of profound eloquence. When we are overcome with grief or rage or vengeance, the Lord responds in compassion, as well as a determination to continue the mission the Baptizer began. While danger has not abated, Jesus is no less able to do the work his Father and older cousin set before him — and to do it through us. Once tears subside, what is left is transformative.
Fr. John Claypool, a Baptist minister who became an Episcopal priest, also suffered loss in the death of his daughter, Laura Lue, from acute lymphatic leukemia. The devastated father wrote in his book, Mending the Heart:
I believe that gratitude is the best of all the ways through the trauma of loss rather than a spirit of entitlement. It does not in any way eliminate the intense pain and frustration that always accompany the work of rebuilding one’s life… but it does take away the feelings of anger… and it opens the way for thanksgiving.
What is the work of God, and where is Jesus now, in the face of loss or suffering?
(The Reverend) J. Kenneth Asel, D.Min. is a retired priest from the Diocese of Wyoming. Devvie and he have been married for 30 years and reside on the Front Range.
To receive a TLC Daily Devotional in your inbox each morning, click here.
Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Houston, Texas
The Diocese of Harare (Church of the Province of Central Africa)