Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wednesday in Pentecost, Proper 17: Herod's ignominious end

Opening Sentence
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in you sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Psalm 19:14

When Morning Guilds the Skies

Commemoration: Albert Schweitzer
Heavenly Father, whose Son Jesus Christ came, not to be served but to serve: Give us the grace to follow in his footsteps, and to show forth your love by loving and serving our neighbors, and coming, as did Albert Schweitzer, to the rescue of those in need; for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 38

Lessons: Job 12:1, 14:1-22; Acts 12:18-25; John 8:47-59

Herod's reign came to an ignominious end "because he did not give glory to God." No doubt he gloried, instead, in his own vanity, relishing the accolades of the crowd shouting, "The voice of a god, and not a man!" It was precisely the kind of praise Herod wanted from "the people of Tyre and Sidon" who had come to him to ask for peace. It was a coerced form of praise, however. Herod staged the event. He "put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them."

It was the perfect setting for a king to garner the praise of his fickle subjects. "Look at me!" Herod was saying. "See my flowing robes. Look at my glorious throne. Hear my voice. Am I not a god to you? Do I not deserve your praise and adoration?"

As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. Herod got the praise of the people, but his own failure to praise God cost him his life. As the people gloried in his vanity, Herod was struck down by "an angel of the Lord." God tolerated no pretenders. To him alone belonged the glory, but his striking down of Herod was no mere act of petulant jealousy. In failing to give glory to God, Herod was failing the people. He was causing them to bow at the feet of a mere man and proclaim him a god. In pouring out his wrath upon Herod, God was showing mercy to the people who had been acting out of ignorance.

Herod's rotting corpse was "eaten by worms." In fact, a strict reading of the text suggests the worms starting feasting on him even before "he breathed his last." Whatever the order of events, it was a gruesome end.

"But the word of God increased and multiplied." Did the people, having seen Herod struck down, then glorify God? Perhaps some did but, as illustrated in today's Gospel reading, some people are hard of hearing even when God does speak through the Person of his own Son.


Speak to Me, Lord