Herod’s Insight


 Herod is presented as perplexed by St. Luke. He is hearing disturbing chatter. John has been raised from the dead, Elijah has returned, one of the ancient prophets has come back. These are all prophets, all related to the prophetic traditions in which Jerusalem is centered, and which continued to be the hope that sustained the faithful. Now, the word on the street, the conversations in the market place, the whispers in places of power, is that prophecy has returned to Jerusalem. If prophecy has indeed returned the voice of the divine is once again heard in the land, and people will flock to the Temple, to stand in the “Courtyard of the Gentiles” which Herod himself had built for the faithful. The return of prophecy would mean that the divine is once more directing the affairs of the faithful, and there was reason to hope for deliverance. Not so Herod. He was sure of one thing, that he had beheaded John, and that John was dead. Herod was sure that prophecy was dead, that the past was dead. He was not perplexed about the past. “Who is this?” he wondered, and so joined the chorus of voices that wondered with him. What manner of man is this that even the wind and the waves obey him? Whose voice can have such immediate effect? Surely, this is not just a prophet! That Herod wondered about the divine is not unnatural, for he lived in the midst of Roman divinities. What is promising in the text is the last line, “He kept on wanting to see him.” Herod tried repeatedly to see Jesus, that’s how motivated he was. He who is the “tetr-arches” (the historical ruler) wanted desperately to see the one who was “en arche,” (the transcendent ruler). Herod’s insight was true, prophecy had ended. His other insight we don’t hear about, that something different has come to pass, and he wanted to confront this difference, to see for himself the divine one. His perplexity lay in this, that the divine is elusive, and eluded him. He who is heavenly power eluded Herod who is earthly power. But Herod kept on trying to see him. There is hope in this.

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