20 This was because Herod respected John. He regarded him as a righteous and holy person, so he protected him. John’s words greatly confused Herod, yet he enjoyed listening to him.
Herod is a hard man to pin down. The basic facts are that he was king of the state of Judea, ruled over by the much more powerful Roman emperor. Herod played the role of a junior bureaucrat, throwing parties and trying to build up his own power. But he dreamed Jewish dreams of ruling as the “messiah” — the true king of Israel, the one to liberate his people and establish justice.
Herod was caught between two competing cultures. He was wrestling with exactly the temptations that the apostle Paul may have been imagining when he wrote, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
The pattern of Herod’s world said, embrace the Roman powers, embrace ruthlessness, embrace violence, embrace extravagance, embrace “any means necessary.”
But God never abandons us to the patterns of this world. God is constantly providing witnesses, people whose lives make us ask questions. People who have the potential to transform everything.
For Herod, that person was John the Baptist.
Who might it be for you? Who makes you scratch your head? Whose life challenges the patterns of your world?
John the Baptist said no to extravagance and Roman power. He preached that God wanted to totally transform our lives. And that a true messiah was on his way.
The story says that Herod respected John. He protected him because he saw that John was “holy,” set apart by God. But at the same time, John confused Herod. John’s life made Herod ask hard questions. He unsettled the things that Herod thought he knew.
In the end, Herod gets caught in a trap of his own making. He’s forced to choose between Roman ruthlessness and John’s confusing alternative message. He chooses the patterns of his world. He chooses stability. And he kills John.
God never abandons us to the patterns of this world. God’s transforming Spirit is all around us. Psalm 85, the psalm paired with this week’s story from Mark, says, “God’s salvation is very close to those who honor him so that God’s glory can live in our land. Faithful love and truth have met; righteousness and peace have kissed.”
God’s glory longs to live in our land. God never abandons us. But we do have a choice with what we do when the patterns of our world and God’s alternative salvation come into conflict.
What do you choose?