Love as strong as death

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 10 (year B) July 15, 2012
“calls and consequences”

I feel an uncomfortable affinity to Herod in this story. Not over the creepy lust for his step-daughter, obviously, but in his being torn between truth and self-interest. What draws Herod Antipas, the power-hungry ruler, Tetrarch of Galilee, son of Herod the Great, to the preaching of repentance, forgiveness of sins, turning in conversion toward God? Something inside of him must resonate to John’s message, and later, incites his eagerness to meet Jesus.

Drawn on the one hand to the messages of Jesus and John the Baptist, on the other he’s also enthralled by the ambitions of his wife, Herodias. Herodias means to help Herod Antipas realize his full potential. Her first husband, Herod’s brother Herod Philip, (with whom she had a daughter Salome), did not share her love of power. She met Herod Antipas, in Rome, about 28 A.D. and they fell passionately in love. Both obtained divorces and married each other, which created public scandal and family resentments.

Herod’s birthday dinner party reveals the cynicism of Herodias. Playing upon her husband’s lust for her daughter, she uses Salome to exite Herod into a promise he will regret. He admires his wife’s cunning. It mirrors his own cunning.

Jesus, attuned to this very craftiness calls Herod “that fox” when Herod sends Pharisees to warn Jesus to leave Galilee. Herod does not want to kill Jesus, but clearly wants him out of the neighborhood. Jesus sees through the murderous threat. And the close observer gets the sense that Herod nurtures a fascination with the message of the one Pilate will ambiguously name “King of the Jews.”

Herod will finally meet Jesus. In the night hours of the Passion, Pilate sends the prisoner to Herod who happens to be in Jerusalem at the time. Because Jesus is a resident of Galilee, perhaps Herod can save Jesus, thinks Pilate. One gets the sense the Pilate is reluctant to have Jesus killed. “What is truth?” he asks philosophically, washing his hands of guilt. Once Herod sends the prisoner back, however, Pilate acquiesces, “wishing to satisfy the crowd,” not unlike Herod in front of his guests at the banquet when Salome danced for the head of John the Baptist.

The long anticipated meeting between Herod and Jesus ends in fury and frustration. Jesus simply refuses to speak to him.

When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length; but he made no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then, arraying him in gorgeous apparel, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other. Luke 23:8-12

Pilate appreciates Herod’s clever humor in dressing Jesus in an elegant robe. The execution takes place.

The sign “King of the Jews” Pilate has placed upon the cross adds another ironic twist to Herod’s story. Herod himself wishes to be King of the Jews.
Herodias’ ambition in that direction ultimately undoes them both. When Caligula grants her brother Agrippa (I) the title “king” she sends her husband to Rome to petition for the same title. Agrippa in the meantime presents accusations of Herod’s disloyalty to the Emperor which Herod can not disprove. Herod is removed from Galilee and exiled to a remote Roman outpost, Lyon, in Gaul.

Herodias, by virtue of her own connections, is exempt from this exile. Nevertheless, and perhaps surprisingly, she chooses to stay with Herod, and both of them disappear from historic record. Herod and Herodias play out their love story to the end and perhaps this one sacrificial gesture ennobles her at last.

The drama of John’s beheading and the crucifixion of Jesus are minor events in the passionate love story of Herod and Herodias.m disappear from historic record. Herod and Herodias play out their love story to the end and perhaps this one sacrificial gesture ennobles her at last.
“What was it about the Baptist and that Jesus person that fascinated you so?” asks the comely Madame Herod in the courtyard of their villa in Lyon.

“I don’t know,” replies the old man, puffing on his pipe. “Something interior, I think. Passion. Passion, that’s it. Those men loved God the way I love you, my Dear. But imagine, loving without the comforts of your scented breasts, your thighs like jewels, your belly a heap of wheat encircled with lilies, the ivory tower of your neck, and I, your king held captive in your tresses. What I admire about those men was that their love was stronger than death. I recognize the same thing in myself.”

“You’ve always been in love with yourself,” Madame Herod observes. “I hear there are followers of Jesus in Marseilles. Friends of his, apparently. Two sisters and a brother. They say one sister tamed a basilisk and the other lives in a cave. I’d love a few weeks on the Mediterranean, wouldn’t you?”

“The warm sea air would do me good,” says Monsieur Herod. “But this infernal Gaulish weather exacerbates my rheumatism. I can’t travel right now. Do you know what’s playing at the Lyon Coliseum this afternoon?”

And so their conversation drifts toward more immediate and sensate concerns.
Here is where my awkward sympathy lies with Herod. Are Jesus and John the Baptist footnotes to my own passions and the dramas of my own personal history?

Do I not make choices every day like Pilate and Herod, appeasing others, acquiescing to my culture, societal expectations, and to maintain my standard of living? Do I accept the way things are with such studied ignorance and self-interest? Is my love for God, for justice, for the kingdom, as powerful as my devotion to distractions, glittering things, and self-preservation?

Will I end my days torn between two loves – one worldly and the other drawing me toward the eternal heart of the universe? This eternal love calls to me in the wilderness of my soul – repent, forsake your sins, and prepare the way for the Holy One of God.

Is my love for God as strong as death?


note: in legend, Lazarus, Mary, and Martha fled to Marseilles after the crucifixion. Martha tamed a basilisk plaguing a nearby village. Mary became an ascetic, living in a cave at St. Baum, where angels lifted her into heaven seven times a day to pray the office with the heavenly host.

One Response to “Love as strong as death”

  1. joan Says:

    ah, yes…

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