Luke 9:7-9 is the story about Herod the tetrarch, the Roman-installed ruler of Galilee and Perea. He was the son of Herod the Great who was responsible for the slaughter of the innocents after the three Magi had informed him that they had come to do homage to the King of the Jews. When the Magi did not return to tell him where this King was born and Joseph took his family to Egypt, Herod the Great, according to Matthew’s account, ordered the
murder of male children in and around Bethlehem. So it was his son, Herod the Tetrarch, who ordered that John the Baptist be beheaded. Like his father, this Herod was both afraid of and fascinated by those who challenged them. It is a familiar pattern with dictators and ruthless rulers down through history. What enslaves them in the end are the haunting images of those whom they have killed. That is why, when he heard about what Jesus was doing, Herod the Tetrarch sought an explanation from those around him. Among the suggestions was that Jesus was John risen from the dead. Herod had John in his head like a haunting image that would not leave him. While he finds it difficult to believe that John had risen from the dead, he was still anxious to meet up with Jesus. Just as he spent hours listening to John who had the audacity even in chains to continue to condemn Herod for having married his brother’s wife. Now here was another prophetic figure who spoke the truth, who captivated people with his visions of the Reign of God. Herod wanted to meet up with Jesus.
Even today one wonders how ruthless leaders sleep at night, especially those who bear responsibility for the death of many whom they torture and imprison because these people are a threat to their power. Perhaps they envy their honesty in speaking the truth even in the face of the threat of death.
Let us pray for those who follow in the footsteps of Jesus and John, for the prophets of today who continue to confront unjust leaders with the truth about the evil things they do.
Columban Fr. Tom Rouse provided this reflection.