3 February
Mk 6:14-29

Some were saying, ‘John the Baptist has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’ But others said, ‘It is Elijah.’ And others said, ‘It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’ But when Herod heard of it, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.’
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.’ And he solemnly swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.’ She went out and said to her mother, ‘What should I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the baptizer.’ Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

‘Herod the Great’, five times married, and father of the Herod of this story, had the dubious distinction of having killed everyone he ever loved; there was a saying, “It is safer to be Herod’s pig than to be his son.”  Still, this son survived somehow, and continued the family tradition of lust and cruelty.  Innocent people die at the hands of such people: the Holy Innocents at the hand of the father, John the Baptist at the hands of the son. 

Josephus, the 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian gave an account of the incident in today’s reading, filling in further details.  Herod’s wife, whom he repudiated in favour of his own brother’s wife, was the daughter of Aretas, king of Petra.  Aretas took a dim view of this and waged war on Herod, and destroyed his entire army.  Eusebius (c. 260-340) wrote: “He suffered this calamity on account of his crime against John.”  Today we would be more conscious of what all those soldiers suffered for Herod’s drunken bravado. 

“I had John beheaded, yet he has risen from the dead!”  Don’t be surprised; he has inevitably risen.  If you want the truth to sprout, cut off its head.  It will grow twenty heads.  This was Herod's experience.  However, because of his misdeed and his guilty conscience it was not a pleasant one for him.  John was his bad conscience.  John rose up again before him like a ghost, not like a resurrected being.  He cannot be beheaded again; it is impossible to behead a ghost.  That phantom pain will be with Herod for the rest of his life.  But wasn’t there forgiveness for him?  Yes, but he was a tyrant and didn’t know that word. 

What’s in this reading for people who are not tyrants?  What could we possibly have in common with Herod?  Read what St John Chrysostom said about that.  “Do not make this cold reply: ‘What does it matter to me? I have nothing in common with him.’ With all humanity we have many things in common. All partake of the same nature with us. They inhabit the same earth. They are nourished with the same food. They have the same God…. Let us not say then that we have nothing in common with them.”  We have to stand in the shoes of every character mentioned in the New Testament. 


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This page gives a very brief commentary by Donagh O’Shea on the gospel reading for each day of the month. 


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