Herod is not a good example of how to live as a faithful person. He made some spectacularly bad choices. Among other things, he had a palace built on top of a mountain in the desert, a place that included a swimming pool and a bathtub (think hot tub built for a small crowd). What kind of a person would insist on a swimming pool and a giant bathtub on a mountain in the desert, miles from a water source? The same kind of person who was afraid that an infant would claim his thrown. The same kind of person who ordered a beheading just to safe face. This is the kind of person who thought about himself first and, likely, didn’t think about anyone else after that. Herod was the kind of selfish person we are all in danger of becoming.
No, I don’t think there is going to be a rash of beheadings, but the violence and hatred all around us isn’t too far from it. You know, the kind of fear that causes privileged white folks to call the police on People of Color doing regular things in regular places… The kind of fear that justifies separating children from their parents at the border just to deter others from trying to enter the country illegally… The kind of fear that leads police officers to shoot unarmed People of Color… The kind of greed that privileges corporate profits over human needs (think baby formula vs breastfeeding)… The kind of greed that limits access to healthcare, employment, education, housing, mental healthcare, and more… The kind of fear and greed that seeks control over those perceived to be different, unworthy, undeserving, or somehow less human. These fears, this greed, lurk in every human heart waiting for those moments of apathy or ambivalence. Left to our own devices we can all make Herod’s kind of spectacularly bad choices.
Amos would tell us to look for the plumb line. By what standard shall we measure ourselves? But what standard shall we decide how we are to live in this world? Jesus, like the prophets before him, was pretty clear in naming Love as the standard – love of God, neighbor, self, and creation. If we our actions do not embody Love, then we ought not to engage in them. It sounds clear enough. Then why are behaviors like Herod’s so common?
Well, there is something in us that is not a fan of holy ways. We have a tendency toward self-preservation and a desire to achieve success and be powerful. It’s not pretty, but it is true. This is why religion is important even in these days of skepticism and doubt. We don’t need all the ceremony and piety of days gone by, but we are in desperate need of a God who calls us beyond our own desires into a community seeking to serve the most vulnerable among us. Imagine how differently the story might have gone if Herod, though frustrated by John the Baptist telling him he shouldn’t have married his brother’s wife, had denied his daughter’s request. Who know what influence John might have had on the forming of the early church…
Now imagine how life could be different for us if we thought first about God’s desires and our neighbors’ needs when we determine how to use our own resources. We all might be less tempted by the fears and greed that plagued Herod and sneak up on us when we aren’t paying attention. Success by the world’s measure is not the same as being righteous in God’s eyes. The kind of power that the world seems to value (or is it fear?) is not the same as strength that comes from sharing the burdens of our neighbors.
While the behavior of the Herods of the world can easily be seen and condemned, we must be careful since Herod lurks in all of us. Instead of pointing out selfishness, fear-mongering, and greed in others, we would do better to demonstrate the radical Love Jesus taught. Living our faith out for all to see is a much more powerful statement than pointing fingers and posting condemning remarks on social media. Herod can’t hide in a crowd, but he can hide in us. Let’s do everything we can to live by God’s standards and not be consumed by our human ways.
RCL – Year B – Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – July 15, 2018
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 with Psalm 24 or
Amos 7:7-15 with Psalm 85:8-13