In a corner? Herod can relate! – Passion of St. John the Baptist

passion of john the baptist, john the baptist

“The king bitterly regretted the request; yet because of his oath and the presence of his guests, he did not want to refuse her.”

That’s an excerpt from today’s Gospel reading for the Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist. The “he,” of course, is Herod Antipas, ruler over Galilee and Perea. The “she” is the daughter of Herodias, wife of Herod’s brother, Philip, with whom he lived in adultry. During Herod’s birthday celebration, Herodias’ daughter performed a dance that so enthused Herod that he lost his head (pun intended) and promised the girl anything in reward for sharing her…uh..talents with the party guests. Because Herod had made the promise in front of a bunch of big wigs and didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of them, he kept his promise to the girl. What else could he do? He was in a corner.

I bet most people (like me, for ine) hear the story each liturgical year and think to themselves, Boy, that is just crazy! Who’d be so dumb as to make such an extravagant promise on a whim? 

Well, it is crazy, and yet people do it all the time, albeit not to the extreme of having someone beheaded. But we do say things and make promises and mistakes that we later regret. Since it would be too embarrassing to admit we’re wrong, we hold to our word in spite of it faultiness. We find ourselves in a corner, just like Herod did.

It starts with making a statement in the heat of the moment that you never would have if you had thought about it first. Once said, it’s impossible to retract and you either have to hold to it or admit you’re wrong. Or, it starts by giving an altered version of the story in order to protect yourself from consequence. Once the false story is out, it’s pretty difficult to correct. So, you stick to your story and try to convince others that they’re the ones who are wrong. Maybe it’s a simple of hiding a bad habit that you don’t want anyone else to see and telling yourself that it’s not really a bad habit. It starts small and builds…

In contrast, there are those who, like St. John the Baptist, will stick to the truth regardless of cost. Pope Francis spoke about them in his June 23 Angelus message:

“John consecrated himself entirely to God and to his envoy, Jesus. But, in the end, what happened? He died for the sake of the truth, when he denounced the adultery of King Herod and Herodias. How many people pay dearly for their commitment to truth! Upright people who are not afraid to go against the current! How many just men prefer to go against the current, so as not to deny the voice of conscience, the voice of truth!”

Would we die for the sake of the truth – or at least be willing to speak the truth in spite of possible backlash – or would we “lose our heads” and find ourselves in a corner?

A griping question to consider on this Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist…

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