All Is A Grace

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Saturday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

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.
Opening Prayer: Lord, this Gospel always brings to my mind the weakness and corruption we are so capable of without grace. Please bless me as I contemplate more deeply this sad account of John the Baptist’s death.
Encountering Christ:

  1. Bad Leadership: Herod ordered John the Baptist killed because he had sworn in front of palace guests to give Salome up to half of the kingdom. Herod made a rash decision driven by his own vanity. Leadership solely dependent upon what the flock thinks is weak leadership. Queen Herodias exploited her husband’s weaknesses and her daughter’s charm when she asked her daughter to dance for the head of John the Baptist. Leadership that exploits others is corrupt leadership. We are called to exercise Christ-centered servant leadership, where the good of the other motivates decision-making. This kind of leadership is a spiritual gift requiring diligence (Romans 12:8), best exercised by individuals grounded in daily prayer and the sacraments.
  2. Paranoia Blinds: Herod mistook Jesus for the ghost of John the Baptist, the man he had imprisoned and murdered. Why? The Scripture tells us Herod “feared the people,” lived with his brother’s wife, and capitulated when Herodias’s daughter asked for John’s head on a platter. He apparently succumbed to his lustful and gluttonous passions while making several important decisions. Moreover, he was fearful and paranoid that John, who had mighty powers, would haunt him. Knowing how sin darkens the intellect and clouds judgment, we might deduce that Herod’s sins adversely affected his spiritual discernment. He failed to recognize Jesus. By contrast, believers in Jesus accept the freedom from sin that he offers through the sacraments and, by his grace, see more clearly his actions in our lives.
  3. Peace in Adversity: Jesus said of John the Baptist, “Among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist…” (Matthew 11:11). When Jesus said this, John was in Herod’s dungeon, destined for beheading. I wonder what John would have thought had he overheard Jesus’s statement? John’s inauspicious circumstances call to mind what St. Teresa of Avila said to Jesus many years later, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few.” Although Scripture doesn’t record John’s words or thoughts from captivity, he was probably peaceful. Saint Alphonsis Ligouri, who we celebrate today, says, “The more a person loves God, the more reason he has to hope in him. This hope produces in the saints an unutterable peace, which they preserve even in adversity, because as they love God, and know how beautiful he is to those who love him, they place all their confidence and find all their repose in him alone.” 

Conversing with Christ: Lord, Herod seemed like a despicable character—weak-willed, sensual and vain. It’s easy to judge his behavior and presume I’ll never stoop so low. Please give me the grace to remember that any good I do I owe to your initiative. You created me and loved me first. There but for the grace of God go I.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will make a good examination of conscience and offer some reparation for my weaknesses.
For Further Reflection: Read The Motive, which is about leadership, by Pat Lencioni.
Written by Maribeth Harper.

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