King Herod was a royal leader and he held a lot of power, but he was genuinely a rather joyous individual and he meant well for his kingdom. The story goes that Herod married his brother’s wife, Herodias. We can imagine this created a level of tension amongst the family, so much so that it likely caused some defensiveness on the part of Herod and Herodias. Along comes John the Baptist, the one who proclaims the coming of Christ, urging everyone to get ready by cleansing their hearts with God. John the Baptist is a man of great intrigue, someone in whom Herod actually enjoyed hearing prophecies. But one thing about John is that he didn’t mince words. If he believed it, he spoke it, no question. During this time of history, taking your brother’s wife as your own was considered a sin, so that’s what John called it: “Repent, and sin no more.”
This of course, infuriated Herodias. After all, who appreciates being told that their love for another is sinful? This is where things start to get tricky for Herod… he rather liked John the Baptist, but his wife couldn’t stand the man. Should Herod continue a friendship and upset his wife? Or does he turn on him and take his wife’s side in the situation? According to Mark’s Gospel, Herod chose to have John arrested and thrown in jail, showing a little loyalty to his wife, if you will.
But then Herod has a birthday party. It was custom for the one having a birthday to grant a wish to one of his or her guests. So, when Herod’s daughter, also known as Herodias, came to the party and danced, Herod was so touched that he granted her a wish. “Ask for anything,” he said, “I swear to you, whatever you want, even half the kingdom, just name it and it’s yours.” The offer sounds like a no-brainer, but Herodias runs off to ask her mother what she should ask for her wish. And that played right into Herodias’ disdain for John. She sent her daughter back to the party to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
And here we find Herod smack dab in the center of an extraordinary dilemma. We all have been there at one time or another. You know, those situations in which we have to make a choice, and no matter what we choose, there is an undesirable consequence for someone? If Herod refuses Herodias’ wish, he looks really bad in front of all his party guests. But, if he grants the wish, he takes the life of an innocent man. Herod had to choose. He could save face and keep his careless promise, or he could admit that he was over-zealous and refuse the wish to kill John. Of course, we know what Herod chose... He choked. Looking good in front of his peers took precedence over his spiritual integrity. In honor of John the Baptist, let’s call that what it is: Weak leadership. Herod was easily manipulated and just like many of our own actions today, his decision negatively affected other people.
It is true that across our lifespan, we humans make constant decisions as life pulls us in ever-conflicting directions. The moral of Herod’s story is that our choices have consequences, often to the benefit or detriment of others. As Christians, we covenant with God to be disciples of a fully human Jesus; he was untethered by doctrine or creed, considered everyone his friend, and accepted people simply as children of God. The human Jesus was capable of thinking beyond his own personal gain and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the sick, cherish the children, and command his followers to put away the sword and join hands in solidarity as one humanity. Boy, does our world greatly need the human Jesus! By approaching those difficult decisions in light of the human Jesus, we’ll most likely find a spiritually honest answer every time.