Monday, September 3, 2012

Paul Simon and John the Baptist

I discovered a book I plan to read. And in reading its The New York Times review, I came across an interesting passage:
“When you are motivated by fear, you are not able to see the best path—whether in death or in life.” – Gene O’Kelly Chasing Daylight
Matthew thirteen is an interesting story of what Presbyterian Minister Matthew Henry calls “the terror and reproach of conscience”. King Herod deserted his wife for another woman. John the Baptist told him this was not appropriate, or, more specifically, not “lawful”. Consequently, John the Baptist was jailed.
Here’s what I find interesting: Herod was concerned with John the Baptist’s thoughts on his behavior.
If he perceived John the Baptist as some whackjob who lived in the wilderness, eating locust and honey, preaching about repentance and end of days, while randomly dunking people, he wouldn’t care whether the guy approved of his relationship with Herodias, who happened to be the wife of his brother. The prophet could very easily be dismissed because he wasn’t exactly assimilated into common society.
But Herod didn’t dismiss him. Instead, Herod was haunted by the statement.
Why else would a great ruler have this man from the outskirts of the desert jailed? Herod knew he was dealing with a prophet.  And Herod was aware of his own mortality, something he thought was not apparent to anyone but himself.
I’m not a big believer in 21st century judgments on first century events. And I don’t like arguing about the existence of God. In the words of Donald Miller, “Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don’t believe in God and they can prove He doesn’t exist, and there are some other guys who do believe in God and they can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it’s about who is smarter, and honestly I don’t care.”
That basically sums up my feelings regarding conversations on intellectual apologetics. However, my point is this: the mere fact Herod was spooked by a prophet so far from the archetype speaks volumes to the underlying feeling of the time. This was real. And many people in the establishment knew, even if they refused to acknowledge it. From what I’ve read in scholarship, I am convinced the reason why John the Baptist was merely jailed as opposed to killed initially was Herod’s fear of both the community who knew he was a prophet, and his own conviction he would be responsible for killing the prophet.
There is this line in the song Sounds of Silence:
"The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and in tenement halls."
Every time I hear it, I think of John the Baptist.
John the Baptist was eventually beheaded, in this bizarre arrangement regarding his girlfriend’s daughter, a dance, and a promise. His head was served up in this macabre arrangement and delivered to the young lady, who requested it under the encouragement of her mother. (This wasn’t an unheard of event, by the way. Nero would later deliver his wife’s head to a girlfriend, after falsely accusing the wife of adultery so he could get out of the marriage.)
Again, I have to ask why. Granted, these were violent times and human life wasn’t quite as sacred as it is today, but if Herod did not find John the Baptist credible, he would either kill him or disregard him immediately.
The delay means he had to know.
Christianity turns the Roman establishment on its ear. The Julio-Claudian emperors thought of themselves as gods, which meant blasphemy and treason were exclusive of one another.
The emperor would have no clothes. And everyone could finally say it.
So of course Herod wanted John the Baptist dead. The prophet was a threat to the comfort of the establishment.
To really have faith means facing these moments of crisis and acting in obedience, as opposed to pride or in a reaction to fear. What if Herod had instead repented? How fast would civilization emerge into something else just by one conversion?
Instead he is just Herod, the man who had John the Baptist executed, under really strange circumstances.
Something to consider . . .

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