Herod…had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.
21 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 6:17-29
If you could write a blank check – ask for anything you wish – what would be your request? And just for the purposes of this little experiment, let’s rule out asking for world peace, a cure for cancer, or an immediate end to the COVID-19 pandemic. All these are worthwhile requests, and are no doubt the subject of many prayers. But for the sake of this moment and this exercise, think more specifically. Your specific need. Your urgent desire.
When Herodias’ daughter was offered anything, and heard the words, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” she did not know what to ask for. In fact, she goes to her mother and seeks her advice in the matter. The advice is chilling. And deadly. John’s head on a platter. I shake my head even as I write this.
The request reveals the heart of the one making it. In this case, Herodias’ heart is filled with resentment, anger, bitterness, guilt, and pride – all unrestrained by the fear of God, love, righteousness, humility, or mercy.
It is precisely those characteristics that will restrain our requests. We will not request someone’s head on a platter – even figuratively-speaking. We will not ask for favorable treatment at someone else’s expense. We won’t ask for something that would harm ourselves or others.
But sometimes our hearts – darkened by the lingering and recalcitrant influences of our sinful nature – are lured toward things that do harm ourselves and others. A difficult day – or season! – makes a resort to mind-numbing chemicals, entertainment, or escapes appealing. A desire for the corner office or work-from-home opportunity takes us all too close to the edge of a chasm of dishonesty and scheming. We can so easily desire the wrong things.
Two things come to my mind in the face of these kinds of temptations. The Old Testament prophet Micah offers one corrective:
The Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.
– Micah 6:8
The great missionary Paul of Tarsus offers the other:
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. – Philippians 4:11
Jesus once asked a blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” The man answered, “That I may receive my sight.”
What would you like Jesus to do for you?