Note: This is a continuing weekly series on the book of Matthew that I began earlier last year.
John had been imprisoned by Herod, and now on Herod’s birthday that same ruler is throwing a party. In walks Herodias’ daughter and starts to dance for Herod and the assembled guests. What kind of dance? Well, the Scripture doesn’t say, but it does let us know that it is entertaining enough that Herod offers to give her whatever she asks. A study note in my Bible mentions such a performance on her part would have been “unquestionably lascivious,” so I think we all understand the picture.
Excited Herod temporarily yields his authority to this woman, in so doing opening himself up to destruction. As his power is now given to another (Herodias’ daughter), she in turn is directed by her mother (who may very well have plotted the dance in the first place) to make Herod act in a way he did not intend. And so because of what he promised in the throes of titillation, he now had to execute John the Baptist.
The story is a sad one, and wholly unnecessary. It is like some kind of fable or short story by O. Henry that seeks to teach us a lesson about the power and pervasiveness of human evil. Now, I could be reading into things too far, but bear with me. Herod, clearly caught up in the lust of the eyes and his own sexual energy, relinquishes control of himself to the object of his sin. Said object may then be doubly objectified, as she is led by her mother to command Herod to effect John’s execution.
Thus it is that a) a young girl may be manipulated into something in order that b) a king could be tricked into doing what he didn’t intend, all so that c) another person could get what they wanted; in this case, murder. Such a complicated and tawdry chain of events is worthy of a soap opera.
As history and recent events have shown us, sin–especially of the sexual nature–can be ruinous. And not just for the man or woman (i.e Herod/Herodias) committing the main offense. There’s more than that. There’s the innocent person (in this case John) wounded or destroyed because of decisions made, and sometimes another person or persons who have been trapped, manipulated, and caught in a system from which they cannot extricate themselves (here quite possibly Herodias’ daughter).
What a mess. What a disaster. What a crime. And all because one person had no control over his lustful desires and another couldn’t stop until their murderous thoughts were fulfilled. There’s a lesson in there, friends.
And so original sin remains, as always, ““the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith” (Reinhold Niebuhr).