On Herod and Exploitation

Yesterday’s sermon was on Mark 6; the story of Herod be-heading John the Baptist at the request of his wife, Herodias. I walked away from that passage the same way I have for years — without much additional thought. The story seems pretty straightforward. Herod immorally marries his brother’s wife, John the Baptist rebukes him over it, Herod’s new wife gets mad and tricks Herod into killing John to silence him. Done.

But our pastor (thankfully) provides discussion questions on these passages, so I couldn’t walk away from it as easily this time. And as I meditated on the passage, I came away with a few questions that challenged my previous understanding of the situation.

For example, why do we typically see Herodias’ opportunism as the only cause for John’s be-heading? Wasn’t Herod’s enslavement to sexual sin the only reason there was an opportunity for this in the first place? Why do we see Herodias as the only one who exploited her daughter? Didn’t Herod exploit her to sexually gratify himself and his “friends”? It seems to me that AT BEST he put her on display to be objectified and AT WORST (although I’m sure it may have been far worse) to entertain his friends through an incestuous strip club performance.

Either way, he abdicated his family role to protect her and essentially invited his “friends” to participate in the abuse of his recently acquired daughter. All this to “celebrate” his birthday. In light of that, are we really going to historically blame only the women in this situation? Surely, Herod would not have sworn to Herodias’ daughter if he had not first desired and used her for his own gain and to gain prestige with his “friends”.

Now, was Herodias an opportunist in this situation? Yes. Did she exploit her daughter as well? Absolutely. Perhaps she even suggested that her daughter dance for them. I don’t know. But I do know that her daughter wasn’t the only thing she used to her advantage. She used her husband’s sin for her profit and amplified the evil through murder. But even knowing that, it seems to me, to cast her as the sole villain ignores Herod’s evil in all of this and the possibility of a broader application for us today.

Because don’t we do similar things even now? We (both men and women) exploit and abuse women and children through porn or worse, we sacrifice the most vulnerable for our own profit and power, and we craft ways to silence or diminish those who would stand up and call us to repentance in any real way.

In saying all this, I do realize that this application is not the main thrust of the passage (hence, “application”). It seems to me, though, that it’s an important part of the story. Why? because John’s call for Herod and Herodias to repent is as applicable for us today as it was for them then. And his preparation for our Savior to come who takes the punishment for these sins is as applicable today as it was then.

The real question is: will we seek to silence the naming of our sins and the call to forgiveness and repentance? Or will we turn from our sin to embrace a Savior who removes those sins, saves us from God’s just punishment of them, and eradicates the shame associated with them.