Herodias’ own daughter came in and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests (Mk 6:22).
Mark paints a word picture of a family: Herod, Herodias, and their daughter: ancient manuscripts differ as to whether she was Herod’s or Herodias’ daughter. Also, two times, in Mk 6:22 and 6:28, she is referred to in the Greek as korasion, meaning a young woman, as young as twelve years old (Donahue 2002, 198). The setting is the banquet hall of Herod, the tetrarch or prince of Galilee. His high officials, military commanders, and the elites of Galilee were all gathered to celebrate Herod’s birthday. This is a royal, opulent family.
The daughter comes out to dance for Herod. Her dance delights Herod and he grants her anything she wants. Following the counsel of Herodias, she asks for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. The reason for this request was because Herodias held a grudge toward John because he stated to Herod that it “is illegal for you to be married to your brother’s wife” (Mk 6:18). Herod was distressed at the daughter’s request but granted John’s death sentence to save face before his honored guests. The execution was swift, the head of John was brought on a platter, given to the girl, who then brought it to her mother.
This is not the ideal image of the family that we hopefully aspire to. John’s upbringing as we learn from Luke had a different experience. His mother, Elizabeth, and father, Zechariah, were devout Jews. They raised their son as a person of integrity and we can see from today’s reading of Mark the extent to which he would do so. John was willing to give his life, rather than compromise his principles. This stands in stark contrast to Herod Antipas who, with little contemplation about what he was doing, acted pretty quickly in giving the order to end the life of John in such a brutal fashion.
Could there be any two starker images of family life than in today’s Gospel? One family as corrupt, conniving, and malicious as can hardly be imagined and another as faithful, pure, and holy as can be hoped for. Families are not perfect, but most, if not all are a bit messy. We do the best we can to support and love one another. Hopefully, most of our families fall somewhere in between, and hopefully closer to, John’s family than to the Herod’s.
Even when life goes well, it can be difficult and challenging. The best we can do as a family is strive to accept and support each member for the unique gift and person we are, make it known that we are praying and thinking about one another, commit to be present and encourage one another, be willing to forgive one another, continue to communicate with one another, and even when we disagree, may we agree to respect one another.
No matter how bumpy the road of life gets or how high the waves of trials and tribulations toss us about, may we support each other to follow in the line of St John the Baptist to strive to be people of integrity. May we stand up for the dignity of ourselves and others no matter what. Even when we mess up, may we commit to accompany, love, and be there for one another.
For all families, and especially those who are suffering from abuse in any and all of its forms, on this his memorial day, we ask St. John the Baptist to pray for us.
Photo: Icon of John the Baptist accessed from: https://thejoecatholic.org/?p=3700
Donahue SJ, John R. and Daniel J. Harrington SJ. The Gospel of Matthew, in Sacra Pagina Series, vol. 1. Ed. Daniel J. Harrington. Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2002.