Probably the most important characteristic of a true disciple is the capacity to listen. Hearing and seeing alone are not enough. Listening is having the disposition to conform oneself to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and the will of God. This requires self-sacrifice and change.
Herod Antipas came from a family of non-listeners, a family aligned with the roman conquerors. A family steeped in violence, power, and political games. This family of Jewish leaders was far from the image of David the King. Herod the Great had a whole generation of male babies slaughtered in Bethlehem just to keep himself secure on the throne by eliminating any rumor a messiah that might replace him. Herod Antipas, the one mentioned in the Gospel today had John the Baptist arrested because John pointed out that Herod was in an improper marriage. Later he had John beheaded out of lust and pride during a drunken banquet. Life was a circus for Herod, one great fun filled party. He could do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and with whom he wanted. He was the center of the fun.
Herod Antipas hears about Jesus. He begins to wonder who Jesus is. But the whirlwind of his own circus does not let him get beyond a few passing thoughts. He does not actually go to look for Jesus. He does nothing to interrupt his fun filled days to go out of himself to encounter Jesus. He maintains an attitude of that which keeps him far from Jesus, the Word of God, or the will of God.
During the passion, Pilot finds Jesus innocent of any imperial roman crime and sends Jesus to Herod. Finally, Herod has an encounter with Jesus. All Herod can do is insist on a miracle. He tries to obligate Jesus to do his will — perhaps to increase his own sense of having fun and to impress all in his court. For Herod all is an external fascination with fun and circus.
Herod lost out on his true encounter with Jesus due to his incapacity to listen. It is easy for each of us to say: “I am not Herod. I am not a king. I am not evil. Fun, egoism, selfishness and violence are not the center of my life. I am not hedonistic.” Yet we maintain many practices in our lives that keep Jesus at a distance. We do not listen to the prompting of the Spirit in our lives, calling us to a new life. The circus is fun and we don’t get beyond the circus. Life is full of fun and joy. But that is not the center of life.
Take time today to reflect on the circus of Herod’s life and the circus in each of our lives. Listening to the Word of God, what is each of us being called to do?
Image: “Jesus at Herod’s Court, by Duccio, c. 1310.” en.wikipedia.org (Public Domain).