At that time, the reports about Jesus reached king Herod, and he said to his servants, “This man is John the Baptist. John has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in John.”
Herod had, in fact, ordered that John be arrested, bound in chains and put in prison, because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. For John had said to Herod, “It is not right for you to have her as your wife.” Herod wanted to kill him but he did not dare, because he feared the people, who regarded John as a prophet.
On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced among the guests; she so delighted Herod that he promised under oath to give her anything she asked for. The girl, following the advice of her mother, said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist, here, on a dish.”
The king was very displeased, but because he had made his promise under oath, in the presence of his guests, he ordered it to be given to her. So he had John beheaded in prison, and his head brought on a dish and given to the girl. The girl then took it to her mother.
Then John’s disciples came, took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.
We often hear about how, say, an act of kindness prompted a generous response which in turn produced another good unexpected result—and this can go on almost forever. As the old scholastic (i.e. medieval-philosophical) saying goes: “bonum est diffusivum sui,” that is, “goodness tends to spread.” And God is the supreme examplar of this: being absolute goodness, he creates finite beings and, each time, declares them good (Gen 1).
Unfortunately, this law also applies to evil, for evil acts have a tendency to generate other evil acts, and this can continue indefinitely, as we can see in the case of Herod, as related in today’s gospel reading.
It all starts with mere lust, which brings him to steal his sister-in-law from his brother Philip and to take her as his wife. Then this leads to a sin of pride: Herod does not want to lose face in the presence of his guests by reneging on his foolish promise to Herodias’ daughter. And thus pride leads him to murder an innocent man, indeed a great man of God. Evil also tends to propagate itself in ever widening circles: and thus lust can easily lead to murder. Innocent sexcapades? There is no such thing as innocent sin.
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