Tag Archives: Herod

Speaking the Truth:Mark 10:1-12

Christ Questioned. James Tissot

Often Mark’s Gospel offers little clues to help us interpret one passage in the light of another. For example, Jesus is sharply questioned by the Pharisees whether it’s lawful for a husband to divorce his wife. The questioning takes place as Jesus “came into the district of Judea and across the Jordan,” on his way up to Jerusalem where he will meet his death.

Mark’s not altogether accurate in his geography but “Judea across the Jordan” was where John the Baptist was put to death for questioning the validity of Herod’s marriage to Herodias, who divorced Herod’s brother Philip to marry him. Mark tells that gruesome story a few chapters before in great detail. (Mark 6, 14-29) The site of John’s death, east of the Dead Sea in what is now the country of Jordan, was lost for more than a thousand years after it was destroyed by the Romans at the end of the First Jewish Revolt in 71/72 A.D. It was definitively identified in 1968, when a German scholar discovered the remains of a Roman siege wall. Since then, the Hungarian architect and archaeologist Dr Győző Vörös has been excavating the site.

Perhaps the Pharisees thought that questioning Jesus here might have two outcomes. Either it might incite Herodias and Herod to do to Jesus what they did to John, or if Jesus didn’t answer the delicate question about divorce, the crowds gathered around him might see him less brave than the Baptist.

Jesus’ answer is brave, and it’s not an abstract one. Marriage is not to satisfy human ambition, like Herodias’ ambition. From the beginning God willed that man and woman be one flesh. The final lines of our gospel, spoken at this time and place, is also a strong judgment on the man and woman who engineered John’s death:

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

The Double Eye

20 grani, Order of Malta, 1742. Obverse depicts the head of St. John the Baptist on a platter. Public Domain.

Mark 6:17-29 (Memorial of St. John the Baptist)

“Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him” (Mark 6:20).

Herod was “perplexed” and “in doubt”—aporeó (ἀπορέω). His eye was not single, but double—diplous (διπλοῦς). 

“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is single, your whole body will be full of light” (Matthew 6:22).

Herod was attracted to the light; he enjoyed listening to John. The prophet’s simplicity, the tetrarch’s perfect foil, awakened his original nature. But darkness had an even stronger pull on the diploid potentate, whose inner compass swung between north and south, attraction and repulsion.

Body, soul, spirit, mind, heart and passions were all out of sync in Herod. The beguiling voice of Herodias, the drunken dance, and his “honor” before his guests snuffed out the glowing embers of John’s words.

Herod the Great, his ancestor, massacred thousands of infant sons on account of the birthday of an infant king. Herod Antipas beheaded the Forerunner of the Son of God on his own birthday. 

The birth of one triggered the death of others. Existence and non-existence supplant each other cyclically in a bipolar cosmos torn by envy and rivalry.

As the guests toasted the life of one, they dismembered the life of another. Did Herod see the irony of his birthday (deathday) party?

The Herodian bloodbath reached its pinnacle in the crucifixion of John’s cousin and Lord, whose resurrection to eternal life finally transcended the futility of the “dog-eat-dog” cycle.

-GMC

Related posts: Head of the Class, Hebrews and Herod

Signs of the Kingdom

Icon of Jesus and the Centurion

12th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)

Matthew 8:5-17

Jesus’ fame as a healer spread far and wide in Palestine, attracting not only lepers but foreigners like the Roman centurion. Jews did not associate with either group; one was “unclean,” the other was “Gentile.” Both were sources of defilement. 

Jesus tore down walls of division by his compassion towards all people regardless of race, gender, physical and psychological condition, or social status. He must have felt an affinity for the centurion who showed such an unusual compassion for his servant, for under Roman law slaves were classified with tools and chattel. An infirm slave was considered disposable. As the noble centurion reached across social boundaries to help his fellow man, Jesus transcended racial boundaries and offered to go to his Gentile home—a transgression of Jewish law— and heal his servant.

The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

The centurion’s declaration of faith astounded Jesus. The Roman did not know Christ as the Son of God, but ascribed divine power and authority to him, intuiting by his spirit that Jesus could heal at a distance.

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven, but the children of the Kingdom will be driven out into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.” And at that very hour his servant was healed.

The racially exclusive court of heaven suddenly widened to include Gentiles in Jesus’ vision of the eternal Kingdom. The presumed heirs may find themselves disinherited, Jesus warned. Heaven is not a national birthright, but the universal communion of the faithful. 

After the leper and the centurion, Jesus returned to Peter’s house where he was staying and healed a third person of marginalized status in Israel—a woman. Peter’s mother-in-law immediately began to serve him as soon as she was healed of her fever. 

Jesus’ love knew no bounds as he healed every disease and infirmity. God had truly come in the flesh to reveal the secret of heaven: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves” (John 14:11). 

As wonderful as miracles are, Jesus wanted above all to lead his people to faith in his Father: “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will not believe,” Jesus admonished (John 4:48). He stood immovably silent in the presence of the sensation-seeking Herod (Luke 23:8-9).

The healing of body, soul and spirit in this world is a sign of the world to come when all divisions in the Body of Christ will be healed and brought to union and communion in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—the miracle of miracles.

-GMC

Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

“Who do you say I am?” is the question Jesus asks his disciples at Caesaria Philippi. It’s a question  at the center of Matthew’s Gospel, which we read today in our liturgy.  Before this, Jesus has taught and done marvelous things in Galilee, mostly around the Sea of Galilee.  Now he’s going up to Jerusalem. “Who do your say I am?”

He asks the question at Caesaria Philippi, a place we don’t know much about, because the city fell into ruins after Jesus’ death and resurrection,  but it’s a place that has an important role in our gospel story.

Caesaria Philippi was located about 40 miles from the lake area where most of Jesus’ ministry took place. It was a gentile city, devout Jews tended not to go there, so we might ask why Jesus took his disciples there to ask this important question.

Caesaria Philippi was located right at the base of Mount Hermon, the great mountain that was the origin of most of the water that flowed into the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. It was a large Greco-Roman city built  in Jesus’ time as part of a big economic boom going on in Galilee. Under the Herods, especially Herod Antipas, a number of large cities like Tiberias, Sepphoris and Caesaria Philippi were built in Galilee to handle the developing trade in agriculture and fish from the Sea of Galilee. The Herod’s wanted this area to be a supplier of food for the Roman Empire.

Some scholars think that Joseph moved his family to Galilee from Judea to get work in this new economy. Sepphoris, one of its booming cities, was only four miles from Nazareth.

“Who do people say I am?”  Jesus’ disciples answer his question in typical Jewish terms. “Some say you are Elijah, John the Baptist, or Jeremiah, or one of prophets.”

In sight of Caesaria Philippi, Jesus’ question might also be posed: “Who do these people say I am?”  The unspoken answer might be “Nobody.”

Would that be the answer we would give if we were asked what any of our great cities think of Jesus Christ today? “They think he’s nobody.”

“And you, who do you say I am?”

“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

St. Joseph

For awhile, I’ve been studying a television preacher on one of the cable stations we get– Doctor Harold Camping, who is predicting the end of the world on May 21, 2011.  He’s found this news in the Bible, he says, and tries to prove it through fast and far-fetched calculations. He’s against churches and their services and their sacraments, like baptism. The age of the churches is over, according to him, just believe in the bible, it’s all there.

Questioners call in and he ends the session thanking them for sharing, but there’s not much sharing going on. It’s Dr. Camping’s monologue.

He’s not interested in recent biblical scholarship either. His main point is to get ready for May 21th by living a good life, otherwise you’re going to be burned to a crisp.

Today’s the feast of St. Joseph and I’m sure Dr. Camping isn’t interested in saints either. In fact, when he talks about the bible, he pays little attention at all to the people in it. The bible is just for us, waiting for the world to end.

But a world of witnesses produced this book, and Joseph was among them. He’s a guide, not only to the bible but the faith it represents. He’s a “son of David,” whom God calls from the small village of Nazareth to play an intimate part in the birth and life of Jesus.

In fact, in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, Joseph is more prominent than Mary. He provides Jesus with a genealogy going back to Abraham. He is told by the angel not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife; he shouldn’t divorce her as Jewish law called for, and he should name the child, Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.”

After the visit of the Magi, he’s told to take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Then, the angel tells Joseph to return to Israel after Herod’s death. Finally, he makes his home in Nazareth in Galilee, where his family would be safer away from Herod’s heir, Archelaus, who ruled in Judea.

Clearly, according to Matthew’s gospel, Joseph has a major role in the birth and early life of Jesus Christ. Is that role over?
“Whenever the divine favor chooses someone to receive a special grace, or to accept a lofty vocation, God adorns the person chosen with all the gifts of the Spirit needed to fulfill the task at hand,” says St. Bernardine of Siena in the readings for today’s feast.

“This general rule is especially verified in the case of Saint Joseph, the foster-father of our Lord and the husband of the Queen of our world, enthroned above the angels. He was chosen by the eternal Father as the trustworthy guardian and protector of his greatest treasures, namely, his divine Son and Mary, Joseph’s wife. He carried out this vocation with complete fidelity until at last God called him, saying: ‘Good and faithful servant enter into the joy of your Lord.’”

St. Bernardine goes on to say that the church today honors Joseph as the fulfillment of the “ noble line of patriarchs and prophets” of the Old Testament. Christ honors him in heaven as he did on earth.

“Remember us, Saint Joseph, and plead for us to your foster-child. Ask your most holy bride, the Virgin Mary, to look kindly upon us, since she is the mother of him who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns eternally.”

Joseph was blessed with a wonderful interior faith. I don’t think he was too interested in calculating the end of the world.