Lectio Divina: Matthew 14:1-12
1) Opening prayer
God our Father and protector,
without You nothing is holy,
nothing has value.
Guide us to everlasting life
by helping us to use wisely
the blessings You have given to the world.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 14:1-12
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." Now Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, for John had said to him, "It is not lawful for you to have her." Although he wanted to kill him, he feared the people, for they regarded him as a prophet. But at a birthday celebration for Herod, the daughter of Herodias performed a dance before the guests and delighted Herod so much that he swore to give her whatever she might ask for. Prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist." The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests who were present, he ordered that it be given, and he had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who took it to her mother. His disciples came and took away the corpse and buried him; and they went and told Jesus.
•Today’s Gospel describes the way in which John the Baptist was the victim of corruption and arrogance of the government of Herod. He was killed without due process, during a banquet of the king, with the powerful of the kingdom. The text gives us much information on the time in which Jesus lived and on the manner in which power was used by the powerful of that time.
• Matthew 14:1-2. Who is Jesus for Herod? The text begins by telling about the opinion which Herod had of Jesus: "This is John the Baptist himself, he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in Him.” Herod tries to understand Jesus starting from the fear which assailed him after murdering John. Herod was very superstitious and hid his fear behind the ostentation of his riches and his power.
• Matthew 14:3-5: The hidden cause of the murder of John. Galilee, the land of Jesus, was governed by Herod Antipas, the son of King Herod the Great, from the year 4 BC until the year 38 AD. Forty-three years in all! During the lifetime of Jesus, there were no changes of government in Galilee! Herod was the absolute lord of everything; he did not render an account to anyone; he did whatever passed through his mind: arrogance, lack of ethics, absolute power, without control from the people! But the one who ruled Palestine since the year 63 BC was the Roman Empire. Herod, in Galilee, so as not to be dismissed, tried to please Rome in everything. Above all, he insisted on an efficient administration which would bring riches to the Empire. His concern was his own promotion and his security. For this reason, he repressed any type of subversion. Matthew says that the reason for murdering John was because John had denounced Herod, because Herod had married Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. Flavius Joseph, a Jewish writer of that time, says that the true reason for the imprisonment of John the Baptist was Herod’s fear that there would be a popular revolt. Herod liked to be called the benefactor of the people, but in reality he was a tyrant (Lk 22:25). John’s denunciation of Herod was the drop that caused the glass to overflow: “It is against the Law for you to have her.” And John was put in prison.
• Matthew 14:6-12: The plot of the murderer. An anniversary and a festive banquet, with dances and orgy! Mark says that in the feast were “the great of the court, the officials and the important people of Galilee” (Mk 6:21). This is the environment in which the murder of John the Baptist is planned. John, the prophet, was a living denunciation of that corrupt system. This is why he was eliminated, as a personal revenge. All this reveals the moral weakness of Herod. So much power accumulated in the hands of one man, unable to control himself! In the enthusiasm of the feast and from the wine, Herod makes a promise by oath to Salome, the young dancer, daughter of Herodias. Superstitious as he was, he thought that he had to respect this oath and respond to the caprice of the girl, and because of this he ordered the soldier to bring the head of John on a tray and give it to the dancer, who then gave it to her mother. For Herod, the life of his subjects was worthless. He disposes of them as he would the staircases in his house!
The three characteristics of the government of Herod: the new capital, large estates, and the class of functionaries:
a) The New Capital. Tiberiade was inaugurated when Jesus was only 20 years old. It was called that in order to please Tiberius, the emperor of Rome. It was inhabited by the lords of the earth, the soldiers, the policemen, the unscrupulous judges (Lk 18:1-4). The taxes and the products of the people were channeled into it. It was there that Herod made his orgy of death (Mk 6:21-29). Tiberiades was the city of the palaces of the King, where those who wore soft, delicate dresses lived (cf. Mt 11:8). The Gospels do not record that Jesus ever entered this city.
b) The large estates. Scholars say that during the long government of Herod, the large estates grew, causing harm to community property. The Book of Enoch denounces the lords of the land and expresses the hope of the little ones: “And then the powerful and the great will no longer be the lords of the land” (En 38:4). The ideal of ancient times was the following: “Each one will peacefully sit under his vine and nobody will frighten them” (1 Mac 14:12; Mic 4:4; Zech 3:10). But the politics of the government of Herod made this ideal impossible.
c) The class of functionaries. Herod created a whole class of functionaries faithful to the project of the King: the Scribes, the merchants, the lords of the land, the officers of the market, the tax collectors, the militia, the policemen, the judges, the local heads. In every village there was a group of people which supported the government. In the Gospels, some Pharisees appear together with the Herodians (Mk 3:6; 8:15; 12:13), and that shows the alliance between the religious power and the civil power. The life of the people in the villages was very controlled, both by the government and by the religion. Much courage was necessary to begin anything new as John and Jesus did! It was the same as attracting to yourself the anger of the privileged ones, both from the religious and the civil powers.
4) Personal questions
• Do you know any people who died victims of corruption and domination of the powerful? And here among us, in our community and in the Church, are there victims of authoritarianism and of the abuse of power?
• Herod, the powerful, who thought he was the lord of life and death of people, was a coward before the great and a corrupt flatterer before the girl who danced. Cowardice and corruption marked the exercise of Herod’s power. Compare all this with the exercise of religious power and civil corruption in the different levels of society.
5) Concluding Prayer
The humble have seen and are glad.
Let your courage revive, you who seek God.
For God listens to the poor;
He has never scorned His captive people. (Ps 69:32-33)