But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee.22 For when Herodias’s daughter 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 to you.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. – Mark 6:21-29
We saw it coming long before it happened; that’s the way it is with a view toward a terminal illness. There are signs. In the case of my dad, it was the inability of him to kick the tobacco habit. For years we would see cigarette butts in odd places around our house after they left: telltale signs of his nicotine addiction. Nothing could help him stop smoking. So when the chronic, nagging cough gave way to a trip to the hospital, leading to a diagnosis of lung cancer none of us were surprised. Sad. Very sad. But not surprised. By the time he was diagnosed it was only seven months until we saw him take his last breath this side of heaven.
Herod did not suffer from cancer as far as I know, but he did have a malady that would yield a very bad outcome in his family and his own personal trajectory. Mark has already reported that Herod couldn’t either dismiss John, or embrace his preaching. Mark tells us (v. 20), “When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.” Conflicted – and compromised also by his wife who wanted to put John to death (Mark 6:19-20) – it was only a matter of time. Add to that mix festive partying, an insecurity that he sought to overcome with bravado and an arrogant show of power, and you have the makings of a very sad moment for everyone there.
John will be killed. Herodias will be confirmed in her evil intentions and ignoring of God’s ways. Herod will violate his own conscience. Herodias’ daughter will be taught the fine art of manipulative seduction. Herod’s guests will be more jaded by the abusive show of power, corruption, and evil.
I once heard a suicide bombing described as a ring of death stretching from the center of the explosion outward, reaching far and causing pain and destruction in an ever-widening circle of carnage; but the closer to the center you get the more terrible and violent is the ruin and pain.
What is to be done in the face of such tragedy? John’s disciples go, take the body, and bury it. What else is to be done? Shall we say that it’ll be OK, that it’s no big deal; he will rise again? No. Sometimes we can only honor our lost loved-ones and await Jesus’ presence and look to him for hope and peace. The disciples will tell Jesus. They will retreat, attempt to regroup, and find peace in the face of these fierce facts. That won’t work out exactly as they may have supposed. We do see, however, that Jesus will continue his ministry. He will not let evil and destruction dissuade him. It will be some time before righteousness is vindicated.
Truth, goodness, love, redemption and faith will triumph. Ours is a view toward a perfect completion of Jesus’ mission and our redemption. Thanks be to God!