The pin-prick of guilt can make you behave in the strangest ways, to react most inappropriately.
Here one man pays for someone else’s guilt with his life…
The Death of John the Baptist
14Jesus became so well-known that Herod the ruler heard about him. Some people thought he was John the Baptist, who had come back to life with the power to work miracles. 15Others thought he was Elijah or some other prophet who had lived long ago. 16But when Herod heard about Jesus, he said, “This must be John! I had his head cut off, and now he has come back to life.”
17-18Herod had earlier married Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. But John had told him, “It isn’t right for you to take your brother’s wife!” So, in order to please Herodias, Herod arrested John and put him in prison.
19Herodias had a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she could not do it 20because Herod was afraid of John and protected him. He knew that John was a good and holy man. Even though Herod was confused by what John said, he was glad to listen to him. And he often did.
21Finally, Herodias got her chance when Herod gave a great birthday celebration for himself and invited his officials, his army officers, and the leaders of Galilee. 22The daughter of Herodias came in and danced for Herod and his guests. She pleased them so much that Herod said, “Ask for anything, and it’s yours! 23I swear that I will give you as much as half of my kingdom, if you want it.”
24The girl left and asked her mother, “What do you think I should ask for?”
Her mother answered, “The head of John the Baptist!”
25The girl hurried back and told Herod, “Right now on a platter I want the head of John the Baptist!”
26The king was very sorry for what he had said. But he did not want to break the promise he had made in front of his guests. 27At once he ordered a guard to cut off John’s head there in prison. 28The guard put the head on a platter and took it to the girl. Then she gave it to her mother.
29When John’s followers learned that he had been killed, they took his body and put it in a tomb.
Herod has married his brother’s wife. John pulls them up for it, telling that they are wrong. I have a hunch that Herod might actually have realised this, because it seems to be Herodias who leads the persecution, and ultimately execution of John. She wants rid of the voice that is going to point out the wrong they have done. Herod however, realised that John was a holy man – and so begins in their lives a classic pull between good and evil, right and wrong.
Herodias excels herself though by getting her daughter caught up in it all. She doesn’t mind who she uses to get what she wants in the end – John, and his voice of truth, gone. Though even though heavily led by Herodias, Herod gets caught out by his own stupid showing off – and he ends up making the decision to go through with the request for John’s head.
Herod loses his head metaphorically speaking, and John loses his literally (Tom Wright p 49)
We all have those times when we hear the voice of truth in our lives, either the voice in our head, or someone who is brave enough to point out to us something that is going wrong. Part of the Lenten discipline of taking time apart is to listen to that voice, to hear the truth of what is wrong in our lives; to face up to it – and do something about it.
It can be so tempting to want rid of it. To try to drown out the voice, to steer clear of someone who dares to tell us what we need to hear, to try to avoid hearing what God is saying to us. We may not go as far as cutting anybody’s head off, but we certainly try to cut voices out.
So, this Lent, how are we going to respond to the voice of truth, the niggle of guilt?
We do have something we can do with our guilt, as the story unfolds, we learn that part of God’s new thing that he has come to do, is that Jesus can deal with that for us. If we find ourselves pulled up short, realise what we have got wrong and where, we don’t need to be held by guilt, but can know the freedom that Jesus brings. He exchanges it for the things we have got wrong, that we can start again.
when I hear that voice,
feel that niggle
that something is not right in my life;
may I not try to run from it,
or bury it –
but face it in you.
I hand to you today
the things that I have got wrong.
I may not be a murderer, or a wife-stealer,
but there are things there
that should not be.
I give them to you.
Thank you that you deal with them,
and allow me to start again
in your New Way