I don’t pretend to be an expert on Biblical history, but I think John the Baptist would agree with me when I say the Herod family put the “fun” in dysfunctional.
The central figure in today’s gospel is a wealthy ruler who inherited his position from his father and whose main accomplishments seem to be based in the construction industry. Although Antipas was married to a beautiful princess from a foreign land, he couldn’t keep his hands off of his half-brother’s wife and everybody knew it. The subsequent divorce and slightly unorthodox remarriage was the kind of event that scandalized Herod’s first-century kingdom, caused John the Baptist to speak out against him and the public to hate him more than they already did.
But Herod didn’t care. Yes, he was technically a “Jewish king” but as he was above the law, he played fast and loose with tradition. He had no regard for what John had to say about his private life and so he installed his new wife and stepdaughter into his palatial estate, imprisoned the itinerant preacher and continued living his morally questionable life.
But his wife could not ignore the things John said and she wanted the man destroyed. She cried, pleaded and begged for John’s execution but Herod hesitated. On the one hand, he wanted to make his wife happy, but on the other hand, he thought John may very well be the Messiah and he wasn’t going to take a chance on killing off God’s son.
Frustrated that she is not getting anywhere, Herodias devised Plan B. When Herod’s friends, business partners and other VIPs come to town for a festival She does all she can to represent her husband well. Herodias puts out a spread. She hires a band. She shakes hands. She makes small talk and most of all; she makes sure that her daughter is in attendance and agrees to perform when her father asks her to dance.
To say that Herod and Salome have a “peculiar” relationship is an understatement. Although the Bible doesn’t go into specifics, I get the feeling that Herod had more than a passing interest in the teenager who also happened to be his biological niece. Perhaps she was a younger version of her mother. Perhaps she reminded him a little of himself. Perhaps if she weren’t a blood relation, He would have tried to marry her instead. I don’t know, but I highly doubt that Herod got his little girl to don a pink tutu and entertain his guests with a few harmless pliés.
Regardless of what actually took place, Herod is adequately pleased with Salome’s presentation, offers the girl a reward for her efforts and you know the rest of the story. Still, I can’t help wondering what Jesus thought when he heard the news. John was His cousin, mentor and a man He admired yet, the Bible doesn’t say much about his reaction. Was he devastated? Did he wonder what John’s death meant for the future of His own ministry? Did he take it as an ominous warning about what was to come?
I have no idea, but in light of current events, I am reminded that although we can mourn, we cannot live in fear of those who threaten to oppress our voices, our beliefs, our freedoms and our love. No day is promised and so we must be vigilant. At this moment in history, we must not lose our heads. We must remember who we are. We must remain strong in our faith, confident in Christ and not give into the insecurity of others who would slaughter us into silence or merely claim us as a prize to be won.
Today’s Mass Readings: JER 26:11-16, 24; PS 69:15-16, 30-31, 33-34; MT14:1-12