[6] On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much [7] that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. [8] Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” [9] The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted [10] and had John beheaded in the prison. [11] His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. [12] John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

Matthew 14:6-12

Have you ever felt drawn into an action that you know you shouldn’t take as a result of peer pressure? I think I’ve reached the age where this is less of an issue for me than it used to be! I do remember, though, finding myself confronting situations like this when I was younger – particularly when I was at university. Often these incidents involved drink; I felt myself led into drinking perhaps more than I should have done to conform to the expectations of the crowd that I was with. I remember feeling that it was wrong at the time, and then that feeling of guilt afterwards, and anger at myself for having done something that I shouldn’t have done.

That’s the situation in which Herod finds himself in today’s reading. He is so entranced by the dancing of his step daughter (who also happens to be his niece, since his wife, Herodias, had been the wife of his brother…!) that he agrees to give her whatever she asks for. I can almost feel his heart dropping as he hears what she asks for – the head of John the Baptist on a platter. He knew that it would be entirely wrong to execute John, but decides that, in order to please both his wife and his stepdaughter/niece he needed to follow through and carry out the action. So it is that John the Baptist, the last of the great Old Testament prophets, the friend and cousin of Jesus, finds himself reaching the end of the road in a horrible and gruesome fashion.

What had John done to displease Herod in the first place? He had told him that it was not lawful for Herod to marry Herodias. Herod had wanted to kill John, “but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.”

Ultimately, then, John was executed because he had stood up for what he believed to be right. He had sought to uphold the Jewish laws (Leviticus 18:16 states, “Do not have sexual relations with your brother’s wife; that would dishonour your brother.”) and had lost his life as a consequence.

John was not the first to lose his life for holding true to the way of the Lord, and he was by no means the last. Jesus himself, of course, was executed for refusing to stop teaching the Gospel. 

Hopefully few of us will ever face the situation where we face death for holding firm to our beliefs – but it is always worth pondering what we would do in these circumstances. We may well find ourselves confronting other difficult situations, though – losing out on a promotion or even losing a job because of our faith; losing friends because we hold firm to what we believe; even being rejected by our families. Should we find ourselves confronting these scenarios – what we do? Is our faith strong enough to sustain us through difficult times? Can we always confess our faith in Christ rather than disowning him, denying our relationship with him?

As we begin a new week, I hope that your faith will continue to strengthen and develop, and that you will have the courage to hold firm to your beliefs, no matter what the world throws at you. 

I hope the same for me too!

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