Love lays down power, power takes up love.
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some were saying, "John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him."
Today’s reading is a story about the use of unjust power. It is heartless and brutal. What a mean man Herod was to take a life simply to save face!
If front of his guests Herod dare not back down from granting a request to his daughter, especially after he had boasted that Herodias could have anything she wished even up to half his kingdom. So, when Herodias said she wanted John’s head Herod had to follow through with his promise. Not to do so would have made him look foolish in front of his guests. Been seeing as maintaining power at all costs was the most important thing, the unfairness of an unjust execution without trial was of no consequence.
The story of John the Baptist's execution is the negative consequence of speaking truth to power. John had confronted Herod in much the same way as Nathan the prophet had confronted King David about his adultery and murder of Bathsheba’s husband hundreds of years beforehand. Unlike David who repented in response to the word of God, King Herod did not repent. Instead, he had John the Baptist imprisoned and eventually beheaded. Herod had turned his back on God’s ways. He thought of himself as above the laws of the land and above God’s laws.
The call to repent is not just a message for the people of the villages, it is not just about personal salvation, the call to repent is for all rulers: for kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers and all in authority.
So often religion is a consolation for people, something we escape to from the world into, a place where we can find peace and calm, safety and comfort.
The religion of John the Baptist and Jesus was no safe option, no sanctuary from the world, no promise of freedom from violence or escape from the world. In fact, those who took up the words of Jesus and put them to practice in their lives would find themselves thrust into many situations that were out of their control and in situations that led to imprisonment, torture and death. According to Paul writing in Ephesians 6:12 they were confronting not flesh and blood but the cosmic power of the present darkness and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
King Herod heard rumours about Jesus. “Some were saying that John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason, these powers are at work in him." The inclusion of this verse gives a hint about what might be to come: that Jesus may be raised from the dead. In a sense Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead in that the voice of God cannot be silenced and the ways of God cannot be obliterated. Evil cannot overcome good, good will always come back. Good can rise out of evil but evil cannot rise out of good. As Martin Luther King said, “We shall overcome, we shall overcome one day.”
Those in power do have more than one choice. They can use their power to oppress, to control, to kill, to destroy, to keep people in poverty; or they can use their power to love, to ensure a just and equitable society for all people.
Power did not choose love that day, neither did power choose justice. In order for the world to change, power must take up love. Love involves justice and fairness. It means putting the rights of others above our own pride and place and position. Love lays down power and power takes up love.
Photo: Cahir Castle, County Tipperary, Republic of Ireland
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation