Now Herod the ruler heard about all that had taken place, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen. Herod said, “John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he tried to see him.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.
What is it like to be a powerful person, insecure in position, hemmed in by rumors of another charismatic leader, and intimidated by the reputation of a new prophet? We learn the answer in today’s brief Gospel reading. Herod Antipas, burdened with the infamy of his father who slaughtered the innocents at the time of the Nativity, and carrying his own reputation as the despot who murdered John the Baptist, is obsessed with the buzz surrounding the upstart preacher of Nazareth, known for miracles and a growing following. These verses on Herod’s paranoia are even literally surrounded in Luke by accounts of the growing Jesus movement: on one side news that Jesus has sent his disciples out to preach the Gospel and perform miracles themselves, and on the other, the account of their successful return and the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Of course Herod is paranoid! Insult to injury, he has yet to speak personally to this new hero of the people.
Is there a lesson in today’s brief Gospel reading? Perhaps it’s as simple as “don’t be as vile and insecure as Herod.” But we also have Ignatius’ Kingdom Meditation: Whom do I imagine as a great and ideal king and how much more do I want to follow Christ the King? With the portrayal of Herod as someone no reasonable person would follow, can we find ourselves drawn to this new kind of king, one who has set the world we know on its head, one who can’t be described but by the inadequate moniker of resurrected prophet, and one who has none of the trappings of a despot like Herod? It may feel dangerous, but we can imagine following Cristo Rey.
Jesus, you are the Christ, the Messiah, and the Heavenly King I want to follow. Help free me from the insecurities of the rumors, the pettiness, and the infamy of temporal rulers. May the freedom I seek be as subject in the Kingdom you promise.
—Jim Broderick KingPlease share the Good Word with your friends!