Blood on the dance floor- Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist- Mark 6: 17-29

Blood on the dance floor- Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist- Mark 6: 17-29

At first the news that trickled out of Herod Antipas’ imposing fortress, Machaerus, was met with disbelief.  His disciples refused to believe that Herod Antipas had beheaded a man whom he considered ‘righteous and holy’; but then again Herod was a people pleaser and a spineless ruler.

John’s body now had to be prepared for burial according to Jewish customs but getting his body was not going to be an easy walk in the park; literally!  Machaerus was a fortified hilltop palace on the eastern side of the Dead Sea. It was special to Herod Antipas for His father; Herod the great had built this palace in 30 BC over the ruins of the earlier Hasmonean fortress.

It was designed to be a defence outpost; its smoke signals of warning could be seen all the way to Jerusalem. It was Herod the great who extensively renovated this defence centre into a lavish palace now inherited by his son, Antipas.

Herod the great chose the peristyle courtyard to be his pièce de résistance. Set within beautiful ionic columns with capitals draped in volutes, this courtyard which saw many great banquets also became the court where treachery and cunningness played out.  It was here that Herod Antipas watched his step daughter, Princess Salome, dance the deadly dance that cost him the life of a man he feared yet protected.

But that day, in 32 AD, saw the blood of an innocent man drip off the platter on which his head was carried. It was a prized but bloody trophy that Herodias had longed to have and now that blood matched the tiles of the roof of the courtyard. It seemed like the colour of blood was everywhere except on the soul of Herodias; for that had long been blackened by sin.

Perhaps if Herod had only anticipated the deviousness that he knew his wife to have, he might have not committed to such a reckless oath. Herod must have surely been intoxicated with power if not with wine for he swore on oath to give even half his kingdom as a prize for a dance that so enchanted him and his guests.

It was an awful affair, for Herod’s birthday was to be John’s death day and while Galilee and Perea were plunged in mourning for John the Baptist, Herodias was planning a victory party. Her long time enemy was dead and she would not have to hear his condemnation of her illicit relationship.

Had John towed the line that many ‘local prophets’ did, he might have been alive; after all her Husband greatly respected Him and never really wanted him dead. But John insisted on speaking truth to power insisting that Herodias be sent back to her lawful husband Philip, who had made Rome his home.

Now all that was too late! The dance ended in death  and Herod would be forever know as Herod the spineless. Backbones, it seemed, were in short supply in Palestine, for a few years later Pilate would shed the blood of Jesus to please the religious establishment, knowing fully well that he was innocent. One wonders why rulers don’t come designed with a spine.

John’s disciples had hoped for his release. For two years they had seen him languish in the dungeon. It was from here that they had carried a message to his cousin, the one people hailed as the Messiah. It was here that they reported to John the fulfilment of the Messianic prophecy; for the blind could see, the lame could walk, lepers were cleansed, the deaf could hear and the dead were raised to life.

Now it was time to bury this great prophet and Herod consented to the body being handed over to his disciples. He was more afraid of the consequences he might have to face from the people than from Herodias’ wrath who would rather see John’s body burn than buried.

John was no reed that could be shaken by the wind. He preferred to face death at the hands of Herod than have to face his God with a life of compromise. He was no soft robed prophet that could be bought over by political will for he had submitted his will to the Divine. He was the messenger who faithfully bore the message he was sent to deliver. This poor prophet, died rich in the eyes of His God.

Fr Warner D’Souza

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5 thoughts on “Blood on the dance floor- Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist- Mark 6: 17-29”

  • An inspiring and absorbing reading! Thank you Fr.

  • Just a continuation of yesterday’s message of gold preferred to God, so it continues. The coin continues to be tossed by choice.

  • Amazing reflection! Makes one wonder and work on how rich will v b when it is our time.
    God bless u dear Fr Warner. Every reflection so power packed. There is no chance when one begins to read that he/ she wl stop before finishing it to the last word.
    Thank u for keeping us in the faith

  • there are also two sets of people, who are never really considered, but yet are important in the story. The first set consists of the bodyguards and executioners who actually carried out the sentence. Were they evil people? Scripture does not say so. Rather they were ‘obedient’ people. But their obedience was to do the wrong things. They are like many men during Nazi regime; they ‘obediently’ followed the dictates of the evil Nazi regime even if it meant that good and innocent people were tortured and starved and killed.
    The more dangerous set consists of his courtiers, his military officers and the leading men of Galilee who had all been invited to Herod’s birthday celebration. These are people in power, some of whom were surely in a position to advice and council Herod. But they do no such thing. Rather, they are men who just sit back and try to see what Herod will do; whether he will keep his promise. They are like men today, who stand back and watch while wrongdoings happen. They are afraid that if they stick their neck out and speak, they might land in trouble. Some of these men were perhaps there even when the Magi visited and had also kept quiet perhaps when an earlier Herod ordered the massacre of the children. Moreover, these men participate in the ‘drinking’ and watch the dancing women (an implication that rather than provide good advice to the king about good things, they are partakers with the king in various vices).

  • One of the most visually disturbing verses (for me) even when imagined…Seems like something out of a Game of Thrones episode. However I feel though we look at Herod as an example of a bad leader…this also kinda reflects on us personally and how we do stuff to please people and allow modern proclaimers of the Word to suffer a sort of ‘beheading’ thru shame and destruction of their name. Again what do we do in the event of coming across a modern day ‘Herod’….do we slay or pray?


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