A Vincentian View
“The Head of John the Baptist”
Think about it. You are dealing with a very powerful and immensely rich person who has promised you anything which you want—even to half of all he possesses—and all you can think of is that what you really want is the head of John the Baptist. That is the story of Herodias. Her hatred for John runs so deep that his death is the only thing which mattered to her. It is remarkable, but what is perhaps more remarkable is that John was able to elicit that reaction in her. What is it about John the Baptist which prompts her reaction; and what is it which causes her husband Herod to surrender to her request. From my room at St. John’s University—whose patron is St. John the Baptist—I wonder what are the lessons in this story.
The fact is this: John the Baptist speaks the truth clearly and fearlessly. He has no concern about the consequences of his words once he is sure that what he has to say is correct. Thus, when he is confident of the immorality of the marriage between Herod and Herodias, he says that loudly and without compromise to anyone who will listen. He is not worried that this proclamation will upset Herodias and prompt her desire to kill him. He preaches the truth about faithful living and following Jesus. John’s willingness to speak the truth and to suffer the consequences was an irritation to some and an attraction to others. He was a real leader who spoke God’s truth as he knew it and accepted the results of his choice. He did not seek popularity but the advancement of God’s kingdom.
Thus, John the Baptist offers a lesson for us which might have particular value in this election year. He is a prime example of someone who is willing to speak and act for the advancement of what is right, for him that was the Gospel. To do so is to demonstrate one’s willingness to pay the price. Does that invitation have meaning for us?
Herod, on the other hand, speaks without thinking and foolishly. He promises half his kingdom to a dancer! And it costs John his head. Sometimes we can speak loudly and thoughtlessly. We can need to put a better guard over our tongue. Herod teaches us that.
And Herodias teaches us about the ugliness of revenge. How often do we allow this attitude to capture our heart–this unwillingness to forgive, this holding on to a hurt? How much does it harm us and others?
What is clear, my friends, is that we have only one head and most of us would prefer that it remains right where it is. Yet, to follow the guidance of John the Baptist, we must be willing to say and to do what is necessary for the good of the Church and our society. We need to avoid foolish speaking and the seeking of revenge. Sometimes in making those choices, someone will seek our head, and sometimes they will get it. Whatever happens, however, we are called to be faithful to our calling, and assured that this fidelity will sooner or later bring us into the presence of our loving God—head and all.