August 5, 2023
Saturday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Today
Herod the tetrarch heard of the reputation of Jesus and said to his servants, “This man is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him.” Matthew 14:1–2
Herod the tetrarch was one of three brothers and a sister who became 1st-century rulers to succeed their father, Herod the Great, when he died in 4 B.C. Herod governed much of the territory west of the Sea of Galilee, which was the territory in which Jesus spent most of His time during His public ministry. He also ruled a territory just east of the Dead Sea, which is where he had imprisoned and ultimately killed John the Baptist. Herod was known for being a very busy builder and is prominently known for his role in the deaths of Saint John the Baptist and Jesus.
Recall that Herod had taken his brother’s wife, Herodias, as his own, and John the Baptist publicly opposed this. For that reason, Herod had John arrested and ultimately beheaded at the request of Herodias, who took the Baptist’s criticism very personally. Herod, on the other hand, had a strange sort of admiration for the Baptist.
The Gospel passage quoted above reveals a somewhat unusual statement by Herod. After he had killed Saint John the Baptist, he heard about the reputation of Jesus Who was traveling throughout Herod’s territory preaching and performing many mighty deeds. Word spread fast about Jesus and quickly reached even the ears of Herod. So why did Herod strangely think that Jesus must have been John the Baptist raised from the dead? Though we do not know for certain, we certainly can speculate.
In the version of this story found in the Gospel of Mark, we read, “Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him” (Mark 6:20). Herod may have been a man who had a spark of faith but was ultimately ruled by his passions and desire for power. Perhaps that is why he initially kept John the Baptist alive in his prison. It also appears that Herod had some form of either regret or fear over his beheading of John. And it is most likely for this reason that Herod immediately thought of John when he initially heard of Jesus and the “mighty powers” that were at work within Him.
Regret, fear and guilt are common effects of a conscience that is in conflict. Herod the tetrarch is a good example of what happens when we do not resolve that conflict within ourselves. The only way to resolve the interior confusion of a conflicted conscience is to humbly submit to the truth. Imagine if Herod would have repented. Imagine if he would have sought out Jesus, confessed his sins, and begged for forgiveness. What a glorious story that would have been. Instead, we have the witness of a man who has gone astray and remained obstinate in his sin.
Reflect, today, upon this unholy witness of Herod. God can use all things for His glory, and He can even use the example of Herod to reveal to ourselves any similar tendency. Do you struggle with regret, fear and guilt? Does this cause conflict within you? The good news is that this conflict is easily resolved by a humble heart that seeks the truth. Seek the truth by admitting any long-lasting sin you need to resolve and permit the mercy of God to enter in so as to set you free.
My merciful Jesus, You desire that all people experience freedom from the sins of the past. You desire to penetrate our hearts and to bring resolution and peace. Please help me to open my mind and heart to You in the areas that still cause pain and regret, and help me to be set free by Your infinite mercy. Jesus, I trust in You.
Further Reading – Dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major