Now Herod the ruler heard about all that had taken place, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen. Herod said, “John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he tried to see him.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved. http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations
If ever one can detect in scripture the “Two Standards” at war in an individual, it is in the occasional appearance of Herod Antipas, especially in today’s Gospel. Herod was ‘chip off the old block’, as the saying goes, a man driven by the intoxicating rush of power as was his father, Herod the Great. He does not trust Jesus, that ‘annoying’ threat who attracts followers by teaching the simple way of love.
We do not know whether Herod Antipas is the Herod ruling at the time of Jesus’ birth, but we do know he is the Herod of Jesus’ adult life. According to most biblical scholars, Herod Antipas is a lustful, jealous ruler who is ever on the alert against possible challengers to his throne, including his two brothers who rule states contiguous to his territory of Galilee and Perea. A painting of him in the Brooklyn Museum captures a bewildered look under a furrowed brow, a wide-eyed, fearful glare mixing curiosity with anger. One can detect the battle within, the standard of good being overtaken by the standard of evil.
It has always intrigued me that this slight pericope of Luke’s Gospel is inserted among miracles and missioning—almost out of place. Suddenly, in the midst of so much goodness, we hear of Herod wallowing in his distrust of Jesus. He is sulking between good and evil. This portends the murderous end of Jesus’ life.
Jesus is the standard-bearer of goodness for us. We do not have to stand on the pinnacle of power to face the Two Standards that St. Ignatius Loyola developed in the Spiritual Exercises: Acceptance of Jesus or Acceptance of Evil. We only have to desire to be true followers of Christ and learn to live simply and humbly without praise and adulation. These virtues, alone, submerge the power of evil and strengthen the power of good.
—Sr. Mary Ann Flannery, S.C. is Executive Director of Jesuit Retreat House, Cleveland OH.
Lord, we pray for the grace to experience the “newness” of life in you. We want today to be different. We will pause and thank you for all the good gifts in our lives; we will ask your help with any problem we face; we will give permission to ourselves to do something we enjoy, something that betters our mental or physical health, and we will not allow negative people to suck out our joy. With profound gratitude, Lord, we place our life totally into your hands, and we know that your divine spark will deepen the significance of our day.
—The Jesuit Prayer Team