Honour from Shame


Church window, St. John Baptist, baptising Jesus

Ancient society existed upon reputation as much as brute force. This was evident with the passion of John the Baptist whose memorial day falls on Monday. In Mark 6, John found his demise at the hands of Herod Antipas. The reputation of Jesus had spread, for many compared him to the Baptist in message, possibly amplified with the Lord’s healing ministry. Antipas divorced his first wife, Phasaelis for Herodias; she climbed the social ladder by divorcing one brother (Herod II) to marry another. The Baptist objected to the remarriage and kept telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” (Mark 6:18).  Also the adulterous affair the king and queen had before the marriage was so public, it scandalised the populace.  Herod’s  wife (Herodias) held a grudge against John and wished to kill him but was not able to for Herod deeply respected John, seeing him as a righteous and holy man. She feared her husband might divorce her to appease popular opinion.  If John’s assertion took root, it could become an excuse for civil unrest which would invite Roman military intervention and lead to Herod’s removal.

To silence John, the king arrested him. At the birthday party of Antipas, Herodias’ daughter danced implicitly in a lewd manner, so as to become an object of desire. The craven Antipas promised anything to the girl, even before those in his court! With that promise in hand, the girl consulted with her mother who insisted on the execution of John, a prospect he feared due to the threat of revolt. The Baptist’s head was later presented to the girl on a plate and given to her mother.  The incident proved the king was so weak, he was not even master of his own family, much less the court and the kingdom. Lust, not status, drove him.

The story of John’s death only heightened his honour, compared with the shame of Antipas, his wife and his stepdaughter.

What does the message of the Baptist mean to you? How does Jesus help us to live out that message?



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