Commentary on the Gospel of
3 August, 2019, Matthew 13:47-53
John the Baptist lost his head. He lost it because of two women: a mother and her daughter. It wasn’t the girl’s fault, she probably had never met John. Neither was it John’s fault because he hadn’t felt any affection for the girl. But Herod (tetrarch) did. He did feel an affection for the girl and particularly for her mother. It might be thought the women are guilty of this crime but the sin lies much deeper. It wasn’t a crime of affection which might have been committed by a jealous lover, it was calculated homicide committed when an opportunity arose. In essence it was a refusal to follow God’s Law. John the Baptist was persecuted because of his message addressed to Herod. It matches with Jesus’ words: Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! [Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34]. We should be aware that persecutions are to come if we are really faithful followers of Jesus, but here is something more. We may lose much more than our heads if we are NOT faithful; it is eternal life that we may lose.
It is also interesting why Jesus did do nothing to protect John. It is mentioned only that John’s disciples told Jesus what had happened. It is possible that the reason was the expected end of John’s mission, since he had said: He must grow greater, I must grow less [John 3:30]
Four major characters in today’s gospel: John, Herod, Herodias, and her daughter.
Herod and John are men of contrasting characteristics. They could not have been more different from each other. Herod lived in opulence, consumed by worldliness. John lived in freely chosen poverty and austerity, far away from worldly ways. Herod had external command over the army and people. John had spiritual command over them. Herod had no genuine character or authenticity—he copied the desires and fears of others, as is evident in his fear of his own people and his willingness to bend over backwards to please others. John had convictions and ideals that defined his life, and his radical commitment to truth would cost him his life. John lived and died in an inner freedom that no one could take away. Herod lived in fear with many nightmares from his wrongdoings.
And then we have Herodias and her daughter, who is left nameless. The daughter has no discernment of her own – she goes by the wishes and orders of her mother and becomes an accomplice in the terrible sin. She did not personally wish it, but she did not stand up against the injustice either. Herodias, on the contrary, is the backstage director of the dark drama unfolding on stage. From her heart’s darkness, she can only plot evil, and uses others as the conduit to realize the same.
John the Baptist? Herod? Herodias? Daughter of Herodias?