|"She went and said to her mother, 'What shall I ask for?' She replied, 'The head of John the Baptist'" (Mark 6:24).|
A man of great courage, integrity and faith, the Forerunner of the Lord continually cried out, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2). A great many people heeded his words. Indeed, "there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins" (Mark 1:4).
But there were some who refused to hear his words and take them to heart, most notably King Herod and his so-called wife Herodias (cf. Mark 6:17).
To the king John said, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife" (Mark 6:18). His words, of course, were true and stung deep. For this reason "Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him" (Mark 6:19).
Whereas Herodias wanted John dead, Herod was intrigued by him; he "feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. When he heard him, he was much perplexed; and yet he heard him gladly" (Mark 6:20).
Certainly a prison is a peculiar place to keep a person in safety. On the one hand, John would be safe there from the plotting of Herodias; but on the other hand, John was near enough for Herod to continue hearing him gladly. I wonder: did Herod ever go to speak with John in the prison?
We might well wonder why Herod was not filled with the same anger towards John as was Herodias. She must have hardened her heart to the truth, but Herod must have remained at least somewhat open to it, else John would have been dead a long time before.
As much as we dislike it when others point our sins out to us and call us to repentence, we know their words are necessary for us to hear and good for our salvation. Herod heard the truth of John's word, he recognized the sinfulness of his life, but he was not yet moved to conversion.
John's cell proved to be none too safe when the wrath of Herodias reached him there. She laid a trap for her husband and forced him to kill the one who spoke the truth. John was an obstacle to her pleasure and so he must be silenced; the best silence, she thought, was death.
Hearing the request of his daughter, "the king was exceedingly sorry; but because of his others and his guests he did not want to break his word to her" (Mark 6:27). Rather than face humiliation before the great ones of the world, Herod killed the one who spoke the truth; rather than repent, he chose to remain in sin.
At very times in our lives we likely find ourselves in similar situations to that of John, of Herod and of Herodias. At times we are the one must confront another with his sin; at times, we are intrigued to hear such words spoken to us but are unwilling to change our lives; at times, we are completely closed off to correction and rebuke.
As we commemorate today the day the Baptist lost his head, let us beg him to intercede for us that we might hear and learn the power and grace of his words, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." He gave his life for the truth; let us do the same.