There is something quite confounding in the Gospel Reading for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, or Proper 10 (Year B). In this reading, Mark relates the story of Herod Antipas and John the Baptist (Mark 6: 14-29). When Herod heard about Jesus and the mighty works he was performing, he was terrified. “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised”, he said. The Gospel further states that “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him” (verse 20).
What is baffling therefore is how Herod ended up beheading the man he feared, revered and protected! He knew what was right, and yet he did not do the right thing. And so, in the Collect we pray for grace to “know and understand what things we ought to do, and also power to faithfully accomplish them”.
For Herod, Herodias’ daughter’s dance upset his ability to do the right thing, but something else was even more decisive: He succumbed to his ego. It is hard to imagine that he really believed he would have given the enchantress half his kingdom. But that is the nature of the ego – to make grandiose promises.
He went even further in succumbing to his ego when he defied his conscience. He revered John, he knew of his integrity, he even feared him. Yet, his ego led him to follow the enchantress’ wishes rather than his own integrity.
How often do we hold on to our pre-set standing policies even when responding to issues of justice and compassion?
In the First Reading (2 Samuel 6: 1-5, 12b- 19) David faced challenges to his own ego. Here was an occasion to sing, dance and praise the Lord. Was it appropriate for a royal, a king, to join in such mundane behaviors of the commoners dancing on the streets? The text says he “was girded with a linen ephod” which would have left him almost half naked.
David’s wife, Michal, believed a king ought not to compromise his dignity with such lowly performances. But David would not let his ego stand in the way of praising and rejoicing in the Lord. Neither should we. Indeed, as the Epistle Reading points out, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…” (Ephesians 1: 3-14).
We have a lot to praise and rejoice in the Lord. Let us pray that we model David, not Herodias’ daughter or Herod Antipas.