Sin is a slippery slope – Friday, 4th Week in ordinary time – Mark 6: 14-29
Naming a child is a matter of great sensitivity. There are names we avoid because of the association they have to everything that is considered wrong. You don’t hear of a Nero or a Judas or a Hitler and certainly not a Herod, especially if you are a devout Christian.
Just about every Herod ‘earned’ his name into infamy! It was Herod the Great who tried to kill the baby Jesus (Matthew 1-20). Herod Archelaus threatened Joseph and his little family (Matthew 2:22) and now Herod Antipas murders John the Baptist.
So, who was Herod Antipas who is mentioned in today’s Gospel? Herod Antipas is not really king, but tetrarch. That term originally meant “one of four rulers,” but came to mean a governor with limited authority. Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee and Perea (Matthew 14:1; Luke 9:7). His brother, Archelaus, ruled over Judea and Samaria and a half-brother, Philip, ruled over Gentile territories on the far side of the Jordan River and northeast of Galilee. The tetrarchs were no more than puppets who ruled at Rome’s pleasure, and were subject to Rome’s guidance.
The Herod family tree is both complex and disturbing. Herod the Great married several women who bore him seven sons. Herodias is the daughter of one of these seven sons and marries two of the other seven sons—which means that both of her husbands are also her uncles. Herod the Great was quite paranoid. He murdered his wife and mother-in-law then went on to murdered three of his seven sons for fear that they might try to depose him. Of the remaining four sons, three marry either Herodias or Herodias’ daughter
Today’s text tells us that everyone in Herod’s court has an opinion on who Jesus was. Some thought he was a prophet, others Elijah and some including Herod Antipas believe that Jesus was John the Baptist who has now been raised. Herod now has a case of a bad conscience and is perhaps very fearful. While the Gospel does not explicitly elaborate on Herod’s state of mind, it brings back to his mind a memory that he would rather forget, for embedded in it are the character flaws of an immoral man with a weak and wavering conscience; a man who knew what was right but chose to succumb to what was wrong.
Herod could not tolerate a season of open descent even from a holy man like John who called out his adultery. To allow John to preach against the immoral act of one who was ‘governor’ of Galilee and Perea would simply give teeth to many more voices of descent if not set tongues wagging even more. Herod’s act of adultery was now compounded by his grudge he held against John. With the power he wielded an arrest was no challenge and Herod’s dungeons would do what his now waning moral life could not; shut John the Baptist up.
But Herod was not the only one with a grudge. Herodias’ colourful past and present made her the object of ridicule and while no one would dare to laugh at her in her face, she was the laughing stock of Galilee. John the Baptist had done more than his fair share of damage to her reputation. Opportunity presented itself and like an adder she struck delivering the death blow.
Sin is a slippery slope. It begins with a grudge and ends in murder.