29 August 2012

Matthew 14:1-12

"The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given; he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother. His disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus." (vv. 9-12)


Although there are four central characters in today's reading - two women and two men - it is the relationship between Herod, Herodias and her daughter (who is sometimes referred to as Salome) which fascinates and disturbs in equal measure. This tripartite interaction, which ultimately results in the demise of the innocent John the Baptist, is a tale of deceit, deception, deviousness and death.

When this passage is usual explored, most folk tend to focus on the scheming of a mother and daughter who appear to use feminine charms to beguile the king into killing their nemesis, John the Baptist. But what should be of greater interest is the behaviour of Herod, who displayed poor judgement and weakness when placed in a compromising situation.

The Bible is replete with great and powerful individuals such as Herod, and his contemporary Pontius Pilate, who displayed amazingly poor judgement, indecision and general weakness under pressure. Although no one would describe either Herod or Pontius Pilate as godly, there are real parallels between these two legendary figures. Both were commanding men in Palestine at the time, but they caved in under pressure. Pilate succumbed to the demands of a scheming mob and sacrificed Jesus (Matthew chapter 27), while Herod lost his head after seeing his stepdaughter's enticing dance, which in turn led John the Baptist to lose his. While it is easy to denounce these individuals as spineless and cowardly, most folk will never be in such a position where they have to make life and death decisions like Pilate and Herod.

From a Christian perspective, it is interesting that both men at no time considered prayer as a response to this pressure. Pontius Pilate literally washed his hands, while Herod's reaction remains unknown. No doubt most Christians would hope that God would come to their rescue at such a time and give them the wisdom and strength to do what's right under pressure.

In the final analysis, prayer should be at the heart of any matter involving a crucial decision.

To Ponder

  • At what point do you turn to prayer when you are tested?
  • Has there ever been an occasion when you 'washed your hands' when you faced a difficult issue? What happened as a result?

Bible notes author

Richard Reddie

Richard Reddie is an author and researcher, who for three years headed up the set all free project which marked the 2007 slave trade bicentenary. He also worked as an education policy officer for Race On The Agenda (ROTA), a social policy think-tank looking at issues affecting London's Black Minority Ethnic Community.