theunfamiliarname

Preparing for Ordinary Sunday 15B

In Uncategorized on July 7, 2009 at 11:23 pm

If last Sunday’s readings prompted us to hear our call to be prophets, however without honour we might feel in that, this week’s gospel gives us a clear sense of the cost of that calling.  Herod loses his head at a banquet, and shortly thereafter, so does John the Baptist: prophet, teller of truth before the powerful.

The story of John’s beheading is well known, and it may seem strange that such a gruesome episode should feature in our “good news” for this day.

Questions of identity are where the account begins, so for clarification:

This King Herod is not the Herod of Jesus’ birth. He’s not even, really, a “king”. Rome doesn’t like “kings”. Herod the Great is dead, with his kingdom divided among his three sons. They rule as tetrachs. Herod Antipas rules Galilee and Perea, a compromised collaborator who wants his people to see him as a Jew but who lives and looks far more like a Roman.

Herodias is Herod’s wife. She was married to his brother, Philip, ruling across the Sea of Galilee. While they were all in Rome, however, Herod (also married) fell in love with her, and they went home together. It’s the kind of incestuous story that could be plucked straight from a soap opera. Indeed, the furious father of Herod’s first wife later goes to war with him, and Herod’s army, betrayed by his brother’s people, is routed.  All of which many see as his just deserts, and some sort of divine retribution for the death of John.

Herodias, the daughter, often named by tradition Salome, was the child of Herodias’ first marriage.  Quite what we should make of her dancing at the birthday banquet of her uncle and step-father, pleasing Herod and his guests so greatly is open to huge interpretation. The willingness of Herod to offer her anything she desires might mean that this was a party and a dynasty getting rather out of control…

John the Baptist challenged Herod and Herodias, who presented themselves as Jewish royalty, to behave as their faith should determine. That their relationship, perceived as immoral, was initiated at the heart of the Roman Empire only served to underline the political statement inherent in challenging Rome’s puppet ruler.

So John, though influential, finds himself like so many prophets and tellers of truth, political and spiritual, in prison.  His legacy Jesus upholds, in continuity with the Prophets of the Old Testament.  We often speak of Christ as High Priest and King, as Lord.  How does our image change when we also honour him as Prophet?

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