This is a reflection on the Gospel of Mark chapter 6: 14-29. Since I was a kid I’ve heard this innumerable times during the Mass – I am here pertaining to the story of the beheading of John the Baptist. This is different from the ISIS beheadings of late, but come to think of it they have certain similarities when we begin to examine the perpetrators. Let us begin:
There are three persons in the banquet who play major roles in our Gospel account: King Herod, Herodias and her daughter who performed a dance. Herodias apparently spites John the Baptist. She harbors a well kept hatred, a grudge, a profound animosity toward him. Her ill-will for John clamors for revenge. What is peculiar about the accomplishment of her hatred’s desire for revenge is that it is to be accomplished by mediation: first through the daughter, then through King Herod and lastly through the executioners. End result: John’s head on a platter.
Much of the drama is hidden before our eyes. Why would Herodias ask for a head served on a platter? What kind of person is she? Is she the kind of person who has a refined sense of sarcasm? The manner by which she orders John’s execution is elaborate. In fact it has an air of sophistication no matter how crude. Whatever played in her head that we do not have access to. But for whatever reason, what we do know, is that a severed head is proof of death. What is hard to make sense of in the Gospel is that it is done grotesquely in the middle of a feast.
We know the extent of the brutality of ancient times and what Herodias requested may have been done before by royalties, nevertheless it’s a party killer – it spoils he whole evening. If I were present in that party I would have said to my companion “Pare uwi na tayo.”
Bluntly, it is plain evil. Even to their standards. Herodias’ revenge, evil as it is, is accomplished in such a grand scale – in the royal court. We have no idea how Herodias’ daughter takes it, nor the general audience takes it, but we have a clue that not everyone agrees to it. Herod does not agree, but he feels powerless. The daughter is silent.
Here we get to see how evil works. Herodias nurtures evil in her heart and in turn she twists King Herod’s sense of palabra de honor. Herod is caught in his word. In the Scripture the reason given is “…because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her.” Herod fears what people might say about him. This tells a lot about how evil operates in our life, in our society. You see, revenge is always accompanied by malice. Revenge is an evil decision, one thinks about it over and over again. Herod gets caught in Herodias’ web of revenge. And all the people present in the banquet were caught too. Nobody denounced Herodias.
The Gospel tells us something about Herod’s heart – he has a great admiration for John the Baptist. He admires John not as a king but as a person. But he allowed his admiration of John to be drowned by the voices of those present in the banquet. But he could have fought it out and end winning. He could have reigned King in his heart by subduing the voices of Herodias and his guests, even if it means embarrassment – at least in that small place he could prove himself triumphant. My realization boils down to this: the real battle ground of good and evil is not in social structures but in the hearts of men. Social structures are just as good as the hearts of men. Evil is cunning. But we are like Herod in many ways. For no matter how cunning evil is, it is something we can see in / with our hearts, but the point is, are we fighting it?