King Herod heard of the demons being cast out, people being anointed and cured, and Jesus name was made known. Some were saying that this was John the Baptist who has been raised from the dead, and for this reason the powers are at work and explainable. And some said it was Elijah from of old, and others said it was one of the prophets from of old. But, when Herod heard of this report he exclaimed: “John who I have beheaded has been raised from the dead”.
I imagine Herod was terrified. He had a lot of respect for John. In the story he arrested John and put him in prison. John had told him that it was not lawful to have his brother’s wife, and accused him of adultery, so Herod arrested him. Herodias, (Herod’s wife) was really ticked off. John had exposed them both, and she was so upset she wanted to kill him. She had a bone to pick with John, but she could do nothing because Herod was afraid of him. He looked at John as a holy and righteous man, and so he protected him. When he listened to John it made him uncomfortable and perplexed. He liked to listen to him, but it was like he was playing with fire.
So when Herod gave a special banquet and had his daughter dance, she pleased him and all his guests. He told her that he was so pleased with her dancing that he would give her anything she wanted, up to half of his kingdom. So, she goes out and reports to her mother. Her mother Herodias grasped this encounter as her big opportunity to get rid of this John the Baptist who was intent on making her life miserable. She told her daughter to ask for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Again, Herod was greatly perplexed. He had a great fear of John, but he also had this dilemma of enjoying to be the man in charge, being in control, saving face, not backing down. Even though he knows the right thing to do in his ethical dilemma, he refuses to do that. Instead he calls for the executioner to take off Johns head.
John preached this message to everyone: “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, change your ways”. Everyone he preached to were perplexed and conflicted, not just Herod. Everyone experienced an ethical dilemma, a time of decision making when they heard the message of repentance and a call to conversion from John the Baptist. Some people repented and were baptized, but even those who repented had experienced a time of guilt, anxiety and soul-searching, knowing that John was speaking the truth, but wrestling whether to respond to the message or not because it would cost them something.
When God calls us to respond to a message, it’s going to cost us something, it’s going to challenge us. We are challenged to make a compromise of some kind, to give up something, to turn from our way and go His way. Herod did not turn. He was perplexed. He wanted to do the right thing, but he couldn’t face the cost. He could not back down. When Jesus calls us to follow with expressions like “Pick up your cross and follow me”, it will always cause an ethical dilemma, something that may cost you, something that will require a change on your part.
I can’t speak for you, but I know some of the choices I felt like I’ve made in my life, and I continue to make those choices all the time, some smaller choices, but sometimes large choices that I wrestle with, ethical dilemmas that require change. A number of years ago a friend of mine was faced with an ethical dilemma. He worked as an aeronautic engineer designing high tech weaponry. He felt perplexed and uncomfortable and wrestled with this quandary for a long time, but in his Christian journey decided he had to walk away from a prestigious, high paying job. He told me that he did not feel it was right for him to tell others to do what he did, but this was a personal impasse. It was a difficult choice.
We make choices every day, some big, some not so big, yet we wrestle with questions that reflect our world-view, our spiritual journey, questions like, “Should I make choices that can damage physical, mental and emotional social constructs”? The premise of ethics begins with the commands of Jesus, to love God and to love our neighbor. Loving God calls us to a deeper vertical relationship with God, a contemplative lifestyle of prayer and spiritual practice, a journey that is new every morning, an exciting hand-in-hand walk with God in the Garden of Eden, “in the cool of the day”. The flip side of this commandment is our horizontal commandment to love our neighbors, to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
It’s an ethical mandate, not just a good idea that we fight for justice, stand up for the needs of others, those that are persecuted, marginalized, shunned because of unjust laws or principles. Even in the extent that it may be detrimental to our position or social structures, there are times when we are required in this Christian walk to stand up and say “No. This is not right!”
Herod, even though he was fearful of John, I think he was somewhat relieved like: “Hey, maybe things will work out after all. John’s been raised from the dead even though I put him to death”. He might have felt a little of the burden come off his back. “Maybe everything will be all right now.” But, of course it wasn’t John. It was Jesus. Jesus has taken up the message, and the message goes on. And, when our life is over and God says to us: “Well done my good and faithful servant”, others will enter into the conversation and take our place in an ongoing conversation of what it means to love God and to love others.
THE EARTH IS THE LORD’S AND THE FULLNESS THEREOF; THE WORLD, AND THEY THAT DWELL THEREIN
For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.
Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of them that seek him that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. (Psalm 24, KJV) Amen.