This week in class we discussed the beheading of John the Baptist and how Herod kept his word in giving his daughter whatever she were to ask for. Though much was discussed in this conversation what really stuck with me was the brief portion of our discussion that was directed toward Herod’s fears. There were three distinct points in the passage (Mark 6: 14-29) in which Herod’s sense of fear can be felt. First, he puts John the Baptist into jail because John was speaking on the unlawfulness of Herod marrying his brother’s wife. We came to the conclusion that this action was due to a fear of uprising from John’s followers if they heard their king was not following his own tradition. However, the passage distinctly tells us that when Herodias, Herod’s wife, wanted to kill John for his “finger pointing” Herod would not all this; Herod “feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a holy and righteous man” (Mark 6: 19-20). Here again we can see that John’s faith and position in his tradition made him rather powerful in the Jewish community, a community that could possibly retaliate if a prestigious leader were to be arbitrarily executed. Then, when Herod boasted of his generosity to his daughter and told her she could ask for anything at all he “was distressed” and yet still kept his word and ordered John’s beheading. Roman “high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee” (Mark 6:21) were all in attendance to watch Herod fulfill this request, had he not had John beheaded he risked angering the Romans in attendance and possibly his crown.
What all three of these situations of fear have in common was that Herod had more fear of the repercussion of the heinous action committed or requested to be committed than he did of the action itself. Herod did not want John executed for his actions in fear of the Jewish community – the reason why he put John in prison in the first place so that he would stop spreading Herod’s unlawfulness. But Herod eventually did behead John because he was afraid of the Romans usurping his power for being loyal to this influential religious figure. What I want to point out here is not Herod’s cowardliness, that is blatantly obvious, but rather I want to showcase the importance John had in society. John was followed, he was hated, and he was revered. What is interesting, though, is that Herod was not afraid of John but rather those who either hated or upheld him. John had created something within the community that began to be seen as problematic in the Roman society and to Herod in particular. Masses were following his ways, teachings, and guidance, while others were watching in fear and anger. John’s example created ripples in the society that became dangerous; the danger stemmed from the amount of people following him that would take initiative and take action if they perceived wrongdoings.
What this tells me as a follower of Christ is that Jesus was important, yes, but it is the legacy and the masses that he left behind that are the ones bringing about the real change. See, Herod had understood far better than his wife and daughter that John was much more than a person slandering them, rather, he had a following and teachings that would live on past him. As someone involved in mission work, and someone beginning to understand that every day is a chance to do mission, this is an extremely important understanding. The singular person who starts a project or a movement for the greater good is only as strong as those who are standing behind them. John was a righteous man and respected by many, this allowed him to gain followers. His example allowed for a community to be built, one that the king himself feared. As followers of Christ we need to find strength in our communities and build them up together. Being a follower is powerful and good; we can do much in numbers. But also, being the first person to step up and begin something is powerful, too. Each one of us who abides in a community of faith and lives the Word is also a leader of our own community. It takes selflessness and perseverance to single oneself out and go against the current, but soon many will take up the task as well and become part of whatever mission has been started. Anyone who has picked up a hammer at a mission site, donated to charities, or walked in parades celebrating diversity has been a part of this influential community. So we need not only to uphold our faith and His will in our personal lives, but also spread it to allow others to grasp on too.
(*Disclaimer: I’m not telling anyone to put themselves in any danger or to run the risk of imprisonment or beheadings… our prison rates are too high as it is and beheadings are just messy. But seriously, selflessness does not equal stupidity.)