In today’s reading, we encounter King Herod, someone for whom the cares and temptations of the world crowded out the light of truth, with fatal consequences. King Herod encounters the word of God through John the Baptist. After John tells Herod that he has broken God’s law by marrying his brother’s wife, Herod imprisons John to appease his wife’s anger over John’s proclamations.
Even though Herod imprisons John and fails to bow to God’s law, there is a sense that Herod does see John for the holy man he is. Scripture tells us that Herod “feared John… knowing him to be a righteous and holy man” (v. 20). Tragically though, Herod’s recognition of John’s holiness does little to inform his actions. In a fit of delight after his step-daughter’s dance, Herod publicly pledges to give her whatever she wants. When his step-daughter gruesomely requests John the Baptist’s head on a platter, Herod does not deny her. For even though Herod is “exceeding sorry…because of his oaths and his guests, he did not want to break his word to her” (v. 26).
As I read this passage, that last verse was the one that haunted me. In it Herod is revealed to be cruel, weak and ultimately a fool. For Herod would rather please the world than serve a loving God. By the grace of God, I have certainly never ordered someone’s death. And yet, even though I am blessed to know God, there are still times in which I too act out of a desire to please the people around me, rather than a desire to please my Lord. Even though I know Jesus is more beautiful than anything the world could ever offer me, there are still times in which I would rather chase the world’s approval than stand strong in God’s salvation.
During Lent, we are invited to step into the light of God’s truth and face our sins. As we do this, we will inevitably face the fate Herod so desperately wanted to avoid: Our oaths will be found to be empty and our “dinner guests,” were they allowed to see us there, would be sorely disappointed. Yet as we repent, we need to remember that we are not confessing to a taskmaster who wants to condemn us; we are confessing to a savior who has already redeemed us. We do not repent and turn away from our sins to earn our salvation. Rather we repent and turn away from our sins so that we can embrace the salvation that God has given us.
We repent because we remember. We remember that “the law of the Lord is perfect” (Psalm 18, v. 7). We remember that Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it. And we remember, and rejoice, in that fact that it is God who justifies us, it is God who sanctifies us, and it is God who gives us hope, both for this world and the world to come.
Tess Mullen lives in Adams Morgan and is passionate about building healthy neighborhoods and celebrating God’s amazing grace.