King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.
But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.”
Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
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.
The story of John the Baptist’s beheading–full of drama, conspiracy, and, ultimately, violence–has inspired plays, operas, and paintings. This Gospel, however, speaks past violence and addresses the choices one makes in life. Herod could have rebuffed his daughter’s request, but he did not. Power, prestige, and fear of damaging his reputation as a bold leader impeded his making good choices.
We are always in danger of making choices that align us not with God, but with worldly desires. One bad choice can lead to a compromise here, and little laziness there, and soon we are no longer the committed follower of Christ we set out to be.
How we will make choices? Will it be for expedience, fame or fortune? Or will we choose to be to mindful of others, thereby bringing justice to all, showing compassion to the needy, overcoming our selfishness? That choice is ours, everyday.
―George P. Sullivan, Jr. is a Jesuit-educated lay leader who helped found the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, Chicago Chapter. He and his wife, Dorothy Turek, live in Wilmette IL, and have four children and four grandchildren.
In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all of created gifts insofar as we have a choice and are not bound by some obligation. We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.
Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening his life in me.
―”The First Principle and Foundation” (David Fleming S.J. translation) from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola.