King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
One of the most dramatic stories in the Bible is the story of Nathan and David. Nathan was a prophet in David’s court. David, as you probably know, was the second king of Israel following Saul to the throne. Although he was a very anointed man, he had a terrible weakness for women, which led him to commit adultery with Bathsheba. When she became pregnant with his child, he orchestrated her husband’s death to prevent him from finding out.
God told Nathan to confront David about his sin, and I am in complete awe of the courage of this old man going to reprimand the ruler of the land knowing it could mean his death. David had already shown himself to be ruthless by killing one man to cover up his sin, what was to stop him from killing another?
David, however, was moved to repentance by the words of Nathan (partly I suspect because of Nathan’s wisdom and tact), and we see the graciousness and mercy of God in evidence here. The gospel writer John would write years later, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We see the truth of that in what follows. Not only does God forgive David, he restores David to his original position in his eyes.
Now contrast King Herod’s reaction in today’s gospel reading with that of David’s. Confronted by another prophet, John the Baptist, about his sin — Herod was having an affair with his brother’s wife — Herod reacted totally differently. Instead of repenting, he had John the Baptist arrested, bound, and tossed into prison. Then, later, he had him beheaded.
The question for us is: how would we react if somebody was to approach us and tell us that we were doing something wrong? Nobody likes to be confronted, especially about sin, but if we realize that this warning could be well-intentioned and intended to save us, not condemn us, we might be inclined to react like David and not Herod. That way lies salvation.
But if we don’t want to be confronted, there’s a way to avoid it. We can make it unnecessary by cleaning up our act. How about we do that now?