Posts Tagged Matthew 6:17-29 The Death of John the Baptist
Herod the tetrarch is also known as Herod Antipas. The same Herod as appears later in the account of the Passion (cf. Lk 23:7ff). A son of Herod the Great. Antipas governed Galilee and Perea in the name of the Roman emperor; according to Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian (“Jewish Antiquities”, XVIII, 5, 4). 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).
John’s accusation was that Herod Antipas was a wife-stealer. And worse than that, he had stolen the wife of his own brother! His act was immoral and unlawful, for ‘if a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing’ (Lev. 20:21).
Herod, who divorced the daughter of Aretas without sufficient cause consummated an illegal and immoral marriage with Herodias, ignored the direct counsel of John the Baptist; held lascivious parties; made an oath to give Salome whatever she wanted, up to half of your kingdom, because he liked the way she danced…Well that one puts him in a bind. Though he was left with an option of breaking an ill-advised oath or executing a prophet of God and he could have broken the oath Herod, pursuant to this grant (Mt 14:10); He sent and beheaded John in the prison.
Towards the end of the first century Flavius Josephus wrote of these same events. He gives additional information–specifying that it was in the fortress of Makeronte that John was imprisoned (this fortress was on the eastern bank of the Dead Sea, and was the scene of the banquet in question) and that Herodias’ daughter was called Salome.
There are three great lessons to learn from the life of Herod:
First, no man 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 guilt 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, ‘For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly’ (Mark 6:20).
“’Herod Antipas, to whom, on the death of Herod the Great, had fallen the tetrarchy of Galilee, was about as weak and miserable a prince as ever disgraced the throne of an afflicted country. Cruel, crafty, voluptuous, like his father, he was also, unlike him, weak in war and vacillating in peace. In him, as in so many characters which stand conspicuous on the stage of history, infidelity and superstition went hand in hand. But the morbid terrors of a guilty conscience did not save him from the criminal extravagances of a violent will.’” (Farrar, p. 295.)” (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 2: 331.)
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).
“Moral conscience (cf. Rom 2:14-16), present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges a particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil (cf. Rom 1:32) …When a man listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking” (cf. CCC 1777).
“Return to your conscience, question it…Turn inward, brethren and in everything you do, see God as your witness “ (St. Augustine, In ep Jo. 8, 9: PL 35 2041.
Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.
In order that conscience can make right judgment, “some rules apply in every case: (1) One may never do evil so that good may result from it; (2) the Golden Rule: “Whatever you wish that men would do, do so to them” (Mt 7:12; cf. Lk 6:31; Tob 4:15); (3) charity always proceeds by way of respect for one’s neighbor and his conscience: “Thus sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience…you sin against Christ” (1 Cor 8:12).Therefore “it is right not to…do anything that makes your brother stumble” (Rom 14:21) (CCC 1789).
You are guilty of sin when you do anything against your right and informed conscience. Your conscience will always be in state of guilt and fear and will keep on pestering you for the evil deeds done. What a troubled and a restless mind. Strive for a clear conscience. “There’s no pillow so soft as a clear conscience,” says the French proverb.
Second, pledging oneself by oath to commit an evil deed is contrary to the holiness of the divine name although a person commits perjury when he makes a promise under oath with no intention of keeping it, or when after promising on oath he does not keep it (see cf. 2152).
Bruce R. McConkie comments:
“Herod is stunned [at the request for John’s head]; he is plunged into sudden grief; his fawning friends are appalled…Antipas…feared to lose face with his nobles should he break his intemperate oath.
“’If a single touch of manliness had been left in him he would have repudiated the request as one which did not fall either under the letter or spirit of his oath, since the life of one cannot be made the gift to another; or he would have boldly declared that if such was her choice, his oath was more honoured by being broken than by being kept. But a despicable pride and fear of man prevailed over his better impulses. More afraid of the criticisms of his guests than of the future torment of such conscience as was left him, he immediately sent an executioner to the prison, and so at the bidding of a dissolute coward, and to please the loathly fancies of a shameless girl, the axe fell, and the head of the noblest of the prophets was shorn away.’ (Farrar)” (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 2: 334-5.)
St Augustine further comments: “Amid the excesses and sensuality of the guests, oaths are rashly made, which then are unjustly kept” (“Sermon 10”).
The rash and foolish promise confirmed with an oath, (see Mt 14:7) which Herod made to this wanton girl, to give her whatsoever she would ask and this promise was a very extravagant obligation that neither a prudent man that is afraid of being snared in the words of his mouth (Prove 6:2) nor a good man that fears an oath, Eccl 9:2 would dare. Oaths or promises are ensnaring things, and, when made rashly can be an occasion of many temptations and sins. Therefore, swear not so at all, lest thou have occasion to say, It was an erro, (Eccl. 5:6). That’s just the reason the Savior said, Swear not at all; neither by heaven…Nor by the earth (Matt 5:34
It is a sin against the second commandment of God’s Law to make an oath to do something unjust; any such oath has no binding force. In fact, if one keeps it–as Herod did–one commits an additional sin. The Catechism also teaches that one offends against this precept if one swears something untrue, or swears needlessly (cf. “St Pius V
Catechism”, III, 3, 24). Cf. note on Mt 5:33-37.
Third, sin engenders other sins and vices, destruction and death. This results in perverse inclination which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root (see cf. CCC 1865, 1866, 1868, 1869).
Herod’s action started first with a seduction of Herodias then followed by a divorce of his own wife Areta. Next, John was imprisoned and beheaded. Bitterly resented the insult perpetrated against his daughter, King Areta of Arabia Petrea, Aretas’ father who was the ruler of Nabateans made war against Herod that heavily defeated him.
Some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God as punishment for what he had done to John. What happened then and that what followed after simply proved that sin brings its own punishment. It was an omen when Herod first seduced Herodias. From that act of infidelity came the murder of John, and in the end disaster, in which he lost everything except Herodias who stayed with him to the end.
Lord, anticipate our needs and prevent us from falling. Help us to choose what is good and to reject what is contrary to your will. And help us to strive for holiness that we may please you in all things (Hebrews 12:14).”