Herod and the Deadly Sin



“Herod and the Deadly Sin” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden

Whatta great party, huh?  There is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat and drink and enjoy themselves.  That’s in the holy writings — Ecclesiastes–my way of being devout.  (burps) ‘Scuse me.  This is a day for enjoying myself . . . know why? it’s my birthday! (Waves cup)  I am forty years old and Herod is not over the hill!  Still crazy after all these years.

Actually, if you wanted to see crazy, you could have looked at my old man.  He called himself Herod the Great and he was a paranoid old guy — always looking over his shoulder and having someone taste his food and sip his wine before he tried it.  He thought everyone was out to get him, and in the end, he was right.  He killed one of his wives and two of her sons.  My mother and my brother and I managed to stay on his good side.  The old man died a horrible death; it was mercy to everyone when he finally died.  I decided then that I was not going to let politics get in the way of me making the most of my life: eat and drink and enjoy myself.  What’s the point of power if you don’t enjoy it? That’s what life is about. 

I’m Herod Antipas — my older brother is Herod Archelaus.  My younger half-brother is Herod Philip.  We all govern in Palestine, which is why we all have the title Herod — it means ‘hero.”  Here’s to heroes!  You can count on us.   We were not that close with the other kids in the palace growing up, my father made sure to sow plenty of suspicion.  Archelaus and I just kept our heads down until the old man died.  But Philip and I were close to the same age and came to power about the same time.  We were both married and starting families so we started getting together regularly, swapping stories about growing up in the palace in Jerusalem.  Philp’s wife, Herodias, caught my attention.  Herodias is the feminine form of Herod, so if Herod means hero, I guess Herodias means heroine.  She was like heroin, all right; she went straight to my bloodstream.  I am not a guy to sit back and wait when there’s something I want.  I go out and get it. Life’s too short not to have what you want.

I informed Herodias she’d be trading up to the better brother.  In my father’s day I just would have just taken another wife, but that’s kind of frowned on now, so I divorced my wife Phasaelis first.  Kicked the old model to the curb and got a shiny new ride.  Philip was not too happy about the whole thing — no more dinner parties, bro — but nobody else said much, I mean, hey, I’m the king, right?  What are they gonna do?  And then this prophet comes out of the wilderness: John. John the Baptizer, they call him.  Straight out of the old writings, wearing animal skins, eating heaven knows what and preaching repentance.  He made quite a stir, and really pissed off the Pharisees.  Good for him, I say.  The Pharisees have gotten way outta hand with all their rules and looking over everyone’s shoulder.  Just let us go on with our lives, I say. Eat and drink and enjoy yourselves — that’s all the law you need.  I was curious about this Baptizer; I kinda followed his career, kept up on his ministry.

That is, until he came to my town and started preaching against me.  I don’t appreciate being called an adulterer over this whole business with Herodias.  I’m Jewish and my people are Jewish and it just doesn’t sit well all around, you know?  What I do in my bedroom is my business and I don’t need some pipsqueak prophet stirring up public sentiment against me.  I put that prophet in prison where he can’t draw crowds of people and throw shade on me.  Whadda jerk.  It really bothered me for a while, and then I decided, hey, eat and drink and enjoy myself, right?  My birthday is coming up — why not throw a party that’ll make all of us forget out troubles.

And it’s been great.  The roasted peacock was perfect, the wine has been flowing, and the dancing — let’s just say I have some beautiful women in my court.  There was one who just knocked me out; I’ve never seen a woman move like that.  Turns out she’s my daughter!  Well, Herodias’ daughter.  She was just a girl when she moved into the palace with her mother, I hadn’t seen her for a couple years.  I didn’t even recognize her with all the veils and things. She moves like a woman twice her age, which would make her . . . still about 14 years younger than me.  Her name is Salome — it means ‘peace.’  She’s a piece all right.  Girl like that will marry rich someday.  I was so taken with her dancing I might’ve made kind of spectacle of myself, pounding on the table and calling for more.    I was so intoxicated by the wine and by Salome’s dancing that said something I might regret later.  Thought I’d better get away from the party and clear my head a bit.  I promised Salome — in front of all the guys–that I’d give her anything she asks for, up to half of my kingdom.  That was a bit rash, I admit.  I wanted to make a big gesture, a royal gesture, but I might’ve gone a little too big.  I thought she tell me right then that she wanted clothes or jewelry, or her own pony, a new i-scroll or whatever girls want these days.  But she said she wanted to talk to her mother. That’s trouble.

Now, if I know Herodias, and believe me, I know Herodias — they’re going to take me for more than I planned on.  Maybe Herodias had planned this whole thing with Salome, because Herodias knows that when a party was in full swing, the wine will be doing the talking.  But, I am the king, and a promise is a promise.  I’ll give them whatever they ask for, whatever it costs.  I’m a man of my word.  Man, am I gonna have a headache tomorrow.  Might as well eat and drink and enjoy myself tonight.  Cheers.

Good morning.  That was Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great and our final Jerk of the Bible — at least for a while.  Herod is a historical figure, and what we know about him is pieced together from the gospels and from historian Josepheus, who is writing at that time.  You know what Herodias’ daughter asks for, right?  The head of John the Baptist on a platter.  It’s a grisly gift — surely the suggestion of her mother.

Different gospel accounts portray John the Baptist’s story a bit differently.  It is in Luke — and only in Luke — that we learn of that John and Jesus’ mothers, Elizabeth and Mary, are cousins.  John’s ministry of baptism and John’s baptism of Jesus are in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.   In all the gospels, John prepares the way for Jesus.

The death of John the Baptist and the dancing of Herodias’ daughter have been the subject of art and drama.  Interestingly, the daughter’s name Salome isn’t mentioned in the gospels — we get that from historian Josephus — but it has certainly entered into Christian tradition.  What I was most interested in, as I was exploring the character of Herod Antipas, was his attitude toward John the Baptist.  Obviously Herod imprisoned John for calling him out on marrying his brother’s wife Herodias, but Matthew portrays Herod as sympathetic to John and his teaching, while Mark implies that Herod was happy to silence John once and for all.  Clearly, the execution of John the Baptist is a turning point for Jesus’ followers, and an ominous shadow of things to come for Jesus.

But what about Herod?  There’s no way he comes out of this story as a hero — despite his name.  Beheading prophets of God makes you a jerk, for sure.  On the positive side, Herod was a man of his word, but words given at a sexually overheated, wine-drenched boys’ bash at the Palace might not be the best words to stand by.  Herod is not punished for killing John the Baptist — at least we don’t hear that in the gospel record.  Josephus tells us that Antipas’ army was destroyed after this event, and Jews considered it God’s retaliation for the death of John the Baptist.

You may be familiar with the Seven Deadly Sins — I mean that in a conceptual way, not an experiential one.  Christian tradition lists these sins as lust, sloth, greed, gluttony, wrath, envy, and pride.  Herod certainly checks the boxes of lust, gluttony, and pride — maybe some of the others, too.  We’ll give him three out of seven. Herod is correct about the passage from Ecclesiastes 8:15, which says “there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves.”  Herod may have missed some of the wider context and the irony of that verse, but he has a point — people have to eat and drink, right?

So here’s where I think Herod is a jerk, and what we can learn from his story.  Herod is a person who let his appetites consume him.  It can happen to anyone who lets their greed go unchecked, but kings and rulers typically have more scope for spectacularly bad behavior than the rest of us.  It’s easy for us 21st century Americans to take for granted how much we have and how much we can get if we work at it, but living for ourselves and our own appetites will consume us.  Living for consumption leaves us empty and impoverished in spirit.  Are these things we can be forgiven for?  Of course, but being repentant would mean changing what we do.

I am drawn to Matthew’s more sympathetic portrait of Herod, as a man who was attracted to the teaching of John the Baptist, and reluctant to kill him.  But Herod was unable to change course from living to satisfy himself.  He could not admit that marrying his brother’s wife was wrong, and Herodias wasn’t taking that criticism well, either.  He made an ill-advised promise in a moment of drunken excess, and went through with a terrible crime rather than being embarrassed in front of the guys.  This is what happens when our loyalty is to ourselves and our priority is enjoying ourselves, regardless of the cost to other people. Herod was a jerk.  He had more resources and different opportunities than most of us, but what would you have done in his place?  Don’t let consumption consume you. Don’t be a jerk. Amen