3 August, 2013. Saturday of Week 17

Lev 25:1ff. Land can never be sold or mortgaged beyond the next Jubilee year, when property is to revert to its original owners and crops are free to all.

Mt 14:1ff. In the context of Herod’s confusion of Jesus with John the Baptist, Matthew tells the story of John’s martyrdom.

First Reading: Leviticus 25:1, 8-17

The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. The you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month – on the day of atonement – you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.

In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property. When you make a sale to your neighbour or buy from your neighbour, you shall not cheat one another. When you buy from your neighbour, you shall pay only for the number of years since the jubilee; the seller shall charge you only for the remaining crop years. If the years are more, you shall increase the price, and if the years are fewer, you shall diminish the price; for it is a certain number of harvests that are being sold to you. You shall not cheat one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.

Gospel: Matthew 14:1-12

At that time Herod the ruler heard reports about Jesus; and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” For 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.” Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet.

But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given; he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother. His disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus.

Beware the Dance of Salome

Laughing and boasting, Herod was on top of the world. It was his birthday, and all the wealthy of the region had come to celebrate with him and offer toasts to the great King of Galilee. Bringing the party to its peak, in came Herodias’ daughter Salome, to dance. And what a dance! Her spectacular ballet pleased Herod so much that he promised the girl, ‘Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you’. Most likely her dance had as its object to arouse the king’s sexual desires, and excited by it, Herod makes the promise that will haunt him ever after: “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even up to half my kingdom”.

Here is just another in a list of Bible characters who went astray. How great might Samson had been if not for Delilah? What kind of life would David have had if he had not lusted for Bathsheba? Would Solomon not have left a finer example of wisdome without listening to his foreign wives, who turned his heart astray? There is an important lesson here: There go I but for the grace of God!

Herod comes across as weak-willed and easily led. While Herodias wanted to kill John the Baptist for speaking against their affair, Herod revered John as a just and holy man, and h protected him, and listened to him willingly. Only when his defenses were down because of the wine and the dancing did Herodias get her way – and John was put to death.

Herod’s reaction to the  dance reminds us that we can make very foolish decisions when we’re tempted. It also shows us that sin’s consequences long outlive the pleasure of the act. Killing John haunted Herod so much that when Jesus came preaching, his first thought was “This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead”.  Clearly he was still thinking about John and feeling guilty! Herod’s birthday is long in the past, but his foolish decision speaks a quiet warning to us to this very day.


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