That Herod feels the need to silence him highlights John’s power – capacity – to persuade those who listen to him. John’s prophetic speech also demonstrates the power of truth, to hold responsible, to destabilise, and threaten the force of those who use it against others.
As with prophets before and after him, John’s empowerment in speaking out against injustice enacts God’s imperative for the dignity and worth of all humans. God’s power is courage to those who speak for justice.
There is power in the Story of God itself. Though Herod does not understand John, he likes to listen to him. He is drawn in to the story and wisdom of Love, Peace, Justice. That story might, with time, have persuaded Herod into acceptance, caused change in his behaviour, and consequently destabilised structures of power – status – that he held in place. And that would have changed the power dynamics for others, including Herodias, who found John’s truth-telling threatening to her power and position. She sought to take John’s life, but until now had been thwarted by Herod’s protection of him.
Again, in Herodias we see fear, which seeks to maintain one’s power over others.
Finally, we come to the daughter. She dances for the entertainment of Herod’s guests. I read a claim that this scene is an endearing child delighting the grown ups. But the likelihood of this being a room full of men, drunk men, from whom surely a child’s parents might want to protect her – I believe Herod’s actions disempower her into property on display. So, for ‘guests’, we should probably hear ‘men’, and for ‘girl’, hear ‘child no more than 14’. And I think there are at least hints here of the power wielded by men over women, to objectify them, demean them, disempower them.
To his daughter, Herod cedes his power. Herod opens himself up to shame and ridicule, to his own utter disempowerment, with his drunken, extravagant promise. How often the powerful underestimate those they dominate, and their capacity to turn the tables, to disempower those who would disempower them.
But the child in turn cedes this power to her mother. And it would take a whole other sermon to explore the use of power over her daughter by Herodias. Employing her as a tool in her own revenge?
By contrast, God takes a 14 year old Mary and empowers her to become mother of God. Invites her to share power, to collaborate in renewing the family of God – as God invites humanity to collaborate, to participate in renewing the family of God.
And you’re right, I’m not going to discuss that head on a platter.
One last note on power in this story, and it may be the most understated and profound: what do John the Baptiser’s followers do?
They take their teacher’s body, and lay it to rest. They meet violence, as Jesus will do, with courageous, peaceful, non-violence. They simply show love to one they knew as kin.
Humans use power as force, power over each other, far too often. God shares power, empowers us to meet force with peace.
We may not be embroiled in literal kingdoms, and thus language such as ‘king of glory’ has lost some potency to illuminate the radical difference of the way of God from human ways.
So we need a new metaphor.
When we are enveloped in a social and news media realm of fear and division, God offers a way of love and reconciliation.
When we are led by leaders silencing critique and dissention, God leads by listening to our complaint.
When we experience diminishment from power wielded over us, God seeks to empower us into wholeness.