For this is what had happened: Herod had ordered John to be arrested and had him bound and put in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. Herod had married her and John had told him, “It is not right for you to live with your brother’s wife.” So Herodias held a grudge against John and wanted to kill him, but she could not because Herod respected John. He knew John to be an upright and holy man and kept him safe. And he liked listening to him, although he became very disturbed whenever he heard him.
Herodias had her chance on Herod’s birthday, when he gave a dinner for all the senior government officials, military chiefs and the leaders of Galilee. On that occasion the daughter of Herodias came in and danced; and she delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want and I will give it to you.” And he went so far as to say with many oaths, “I will give you anything you ask, even half my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” The mother replied, “The head of John the Baptist.” The girl hurried to the king and made her request: “I want you to give me the head of John the Baptist, here and now, on a dish.”
The king was very displeased, but he would not refuse in front of his guests because of his oaths. So he sent one of the bodyguards with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded John in prison; then he brought the head on a dish and gave it to the girl. And the girl gave it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard of this, they came and took his body and buried it.
As was said earlier (see comments on Mt 14:1-12–August 1), evil has a natural momentum and tends to spread and deepen. But this law of the spiritual world also applies to good actions.
We see this enacted in the life of John the Baptist. At the beginning of his life he is only a solitary ascetic living in the desert. Then he goes a step further and involves himself in the spiritual progress of his fellows by preaching and to include even the immoral Herod, a dangerous practice which lands him in jail. But even in jail John courageously continues to try converting Herod, knowing full well that he is risking his life by thus provoking the anger of Herodias. In all this, we see John growing steadily in spiritual stature—until he dies a martyr’s death.
Our own spiritual lives, too, are ruled by the law of momentum. This is spelled out very well by a popular poster which states the following: “Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch you actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch you character, it becomes your destiny.”
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