29 August 2015Matthew 14:1-12
“… Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been telling him, ‘It is not lawful for you to have her.’” (vv. 3-4)
Psalm: Psalm 11
On the death of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:20), his kingdom was divided among his three sons: Archelaus received Judean and Samaria; Philip received Trachonitis and Ituraea, while Herod Antipas received Galilee and Peraea. This last was a relatively peaceful area, which was probably why Joseph decided to settle there on returning from Egypt.
Mark's Gospel (Mark 6:14-29) provides a longer version of the events recorded here. In each account, the death of John is presented as background to Herod's reaction to the reports he had heard about Jesus (verses 1-2). Had John come back to life? Origen, a father of the early Church, supposed that Jesus and John the Baptist looked alike, given that their mothers were cousins. Herod perhaps had real cause for alarm!
Matthew first records the arrest of John in Matthew 4:12, when, on hearing of it, Jesus returned to Galilee. The intervening chapters record Jesus' ministry of teaching and healing in the region. Like John, Jesus drew large crowds. The Romano-Jewish historian, Josephus, was of the opinion that Herod had John put to death because of the power he had over the crowds. The young Galilean teacher seemed very similar in this respect.
The Gospel writers took another view - John was executed because he drew attention to an inconvenient truth. Herod had seduced Herodias, the wife of his brother, Philip, and had disposed of his own wife in order to marry her. As a sister-in-law, Herodias fell within the range of proscribed relationships - it was indeed unlawful for Herod to have her.
John had made himself deeply unpopular with the religious authorities of the day (Matthew 3:7-10). Now he has challenged the political authority and paid the ultimate price. In the story of John, there is a foreshadowing of the story of Jesus. Early Christians, facing persecution, could interpret the events overwhelming them in the light of these stories.
- What truths do you think are worth dying for?
- Think of a time when you were prepared to challenge power for the sake of the truth. What did you do? And would you do it again?