REMEMBERING A TRAGEDY
Matthew 14:6-14 (NET)
6 But on Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod, 7 so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8 Instructed by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” 9 Although it grieved the king, because of his oath and the dinner guests he commanded it to be given. 10 So he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 Then John’s disciples came and took the body and buried it and went and told Jesus. 13 Now when Jesus heard this he went away from there privately in a boat to an isolated place. But when the crowd heard about it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 As he got out he saw the large crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Yesterday was the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the United States. We call it Patriot Day. In honor of that holiday, I wanted to share some memorable quotes about that tragedy and its consequences.
Sandy Dahl, wife of flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl said “If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.”
President George W. Bush said “Our enemies made the mistake that America’s enemies always make. They saw liberty and thought they saw weakness.”
Deepak Chopra said “September 11 was a reminder that life is fleeting, impermanent and uncertain. Therefore we must make use of every moment and nurture it with affection, tenderness, beauty, creativity, and laughter.”
Senator John Kerry said, “It was the worst day we have ever seen, but it brought out the best in all of us.”
Colin Powell said, “You can be sure that the American spirit will prevail over this tragedy.”
Today’s Scripture text recalls a terrible tragedy in the life of Jesus: the death of his relative and forerunner John the Baptist. When we remember a tragedy, we inevitably think of choices that led to it.
Choices. We all make choices, and the choices we make result in consequences. On 9/11, some terrible men made some terrible choices, and it resulted in a tragedy for thousands of people and shocked our nation.
Choices. Someone can call himself pro-choice, but what he really means is that he wants the government to allow him to make a choice without suffering the consequences. The Bible teaches us that some of our choices will have terrible consequences — both in this life and on judgment day. You can call yourself pro-choice all you want, but if the choices you want to make endanger other people’s lives, there will be consequences.
Herod’s choices (6).
King Herod Antipas was the ruler of Galilee & Perea from 4 BC to 39 AD, so he had the authority to make lots of choices that affected lots of people.
Earlier in this chapter, we learn that Herod Antipas had married Herodias, who had been his brother’s wife. When John the Baptist pointed out that the marriage was unlawful, Herod had him put in prison. He was not the first political leader who thought that he was above the law, and he would not be the last.
Putting John in prison was a compromise for Herod. Also in this chapter, we read…
“Although Herod wanted to kill John, he feared the crowd because they accepted John as a prophet” (Matthew 14:5).
But the events described in today’s text sent Herod over the edge. Herod made the choice to let himself be entertained by his new wife’s daughter. She danced for him and her display pleased him. He was so entranced by her beauty that he disengaged his brain.
He made the choice to promise this young girl to give her whatever she asked for. I would say that the words “What were you thinking” apply here. But I have already said that his lust had disengaged his brain.
That happens a lot with lust. It is not a toy to be played with. The book of Proverbs tells us …
“the commandments are like a lamp, instruction is like a light, and rebukes of discipline are like the road leading to life, by keeping you from the evil woman, from the smooth tongue of the loose woman. Do not lust in your heart for her beauty, and do not let her captivate you with her alluring eyes; for on account of a prostitute one is brought down to a loaf of bread, but the wife of another man preys on your precious life” (Proverbs 6:23-26).
But Herod was not the only one whose choices led to the tragedy that day.
Herodias’ choices (8,11).
Herodias was Herod Antipas’ wife. She had already made the choice to leave her first husband — Herod Philip — and move up the ladder to Herod Antipas. She also agreed to have that troublemaker John the Baptist imprisoned. But when she found out about her husband’s rash promise, she decided to take her sinful life to the next level. She advised her daughter to ask for John’s head on a platter.
Herodias was also pro-choice, and her choice was to eliminate a life that was inconvenient for her. God holds people accountable who make those kinds of choices. That is the case even when the government approves of them. Herodias’ husband was the government. He sanctioned this murder of an innocent. But his government sanction did not make it any less a murder.
Salome’s choices (6,8).
We don’t learn the young woman’s name in the New Testament, but history tells us it was Salome. She chose to entertain her stepfather. She chose to listen to the advice of her mother, conspiring to have an innocent man murdered. John’s “head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. Then John’s disciples came and took the body and buried it and went and told Jesus” (11-12).
Salome was not an innocent victim in this tragedy, but she was a victim. The people who should have given her good advice led her down the wrong path. The people she looked up to brought her down. Lots of people in this generation are puppets to a culture that has turned them against righteousness, against the truth, and against God.
But I also want us to notice the choices that Jesus made as a result of this tragedy.
Jesus’ choices (13-14).
The first choice that Jesus made was very natural.
“Now when Jesus heard this he went away from there privately in a boat to an isolated place” (13a).
When we face a tragedy, we need time to reflect and recover. That is what Jesus and his disciples intended to do. They wanted to get away. The normality of life had been disrupted by a senseless tragedy.
Just before the events of 9/11, I was an intended victim of another terrorist attack, while serving as a missionary in the Philippines. We went away for a ministry trip and came back with a coffin carrying one of our students. I can understand the need to get away, rest and reflect. I needed to do the same thing. My reflection on that tragedy helped me to come back to work with a new sense of purpose. I stopped asking “Lord, why me?” and I started asking “Lord, why did you spare me?”
But Jesus’ plans for a time of quiet recovery were interrupted.
“But when the crowd heard about it, they followed him on foot from the towns. As he got out he saw the large crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (13b-14).
The tragedies we experience cannot stop us from the ministry we have been called to. In spite of our pain, we are called to heal the pain of others. Regardless of our sorrow at the loss we experience, there are others who have needs, and Christ calls on us to help meet those needs.
These tragedies can turn hate into infectious disease, but they don’t have to. We can triumph over the tragedies in life by responding with acts of love. We can heal the hurts, and comfort those who have lost loved ones. We can follow the example of our Lord and turn tragedy into an opportunity for healing and compassion. That is making the right choice.