King Herod Antipas was sly, ambitious and luxury-loving. He was originally married to the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia. However, while on an excursion to Rome, he stayed with his half-brother Philip and Herodias, his wife. Impetuously, he fell in love with his brother’s wife. Rather than suppress his inappropriate infatuation, he approached Herodias and convinced her to leave Philip. She agreed as long as he divorced his Arabian wife, which he did (See Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, Chap. V, v. 1-2).
For having done so, he made himself a wife-stealer. Worst, he had stolen the wife of his own brother! And according to the Book of Leviticus it is immoral and unlawful for ‘if a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing’ (Lev. 20:21). It was not surprising, therefore, to hear John the Baptist as a prophet of God denouncing his shameful and reprehensible evil deeds.
King Herod had respected and feared John the Baptist as a great prophet and servant of God. But he had him arrested, imprisoned and beheaded when the head of John was requested by his wife Herodias through her daughter as promised payment for the favor he received from her for entertaining her privileged guests.
When reports of Jesus’ miracles and teaching reach Herod’s court, he becomes very troubled in conscience. He thinks that John the Baptist has risen from the dead!
What is the moral of the story?
No human person can rid himself of a sin by ridding himself off the man who confronts him with it. There is such a thing as conscience, where he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (cf. Gaudium et Spet, 16), and even if a man’s accuser is eliminated his guilty conscience is still not silenced.
Herod’s mind has been tortured by guilty conscience from murdering a prophet of God. Herod’s actions were obviously haunting him. He knew it was wrong to kill John. He had been plagued with his own conscience and knew that he would be punished for his actions.
Vatican II reminds us: “For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God…His conscience is man’s most secret core and sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (Gaudium et Spet, 16). When we are guilty of sins and crimes especially if they are grave we will always be disturbed, troubled, condemned and haunted by our guilty conscience. Lewis Mencken (18801956), U.S. journalist and a critic is indeed right when he said, “Conscience is a mother-in-law whose visit never ends.”
Strive for a clear conscience and follow your right and informed conscience which always enjoin you to do good and avoid evil. As the French proverb says, “There’s no pillow so soft as a clear conscience.”
Herod feared John. As God’s prophet, John confronts Herod with the truth: “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” In rebuking the king, John does not compromise with truth and morality.
Herod reacts by having John arrested and imprisoned. While he has the power, Herod is a weakling. He swears an extravagant gift to his stepdaughter, even half of his kingdom. Then he is ashamed to take back his promise because of his oaths and the guests—though this means disregarding his conviction that John the Baptist is a righteous and holy man and having him beheaded.
Let us not hide the truth or discredit its source. Let us not blame others or look for scapegoats. Let us take responsibility for our decisions and actions.
I will always speak and stand for the truth