7. Herod and Jesus
The Public Life of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, Vol. 1 by Bishop Alban Goodier, SJ;
But for Herod it was not to end there. The banquet was over. The guests went their different ways, some to their homes, others to Jerusalem to celebrate the Pasch; Herod, with Herodias and his court, would follow soon. They parted good fellows. They thanked Herod for his hospitality; they congratulated him on the way he had played the game. After all, when one considered the matter coolly, it had been a fortunate ending of a very awkward nuisance. Sooner or later this John would have had to die, and if so the sooner the better. What had he been in life but a disturber of the peace, a sedition-monger? On the whole the best thing had happened. They went their ways; they told themselves it was no affair of theirs. They had given Herod what consolation they could; the rest was his concern, and if harm came of it, let him look to it himself.
They went their ways, and Machrerus took on again its ordinary routine. But there was gloom in the palace from that day. Herod and Herodias met, but one subject dared not be mentioned between them. Herod and the daughter met; but the daughter soon saw that, for the present at least, it were better to avoid his company. The excitement of that night had soon passed, the moroseness had returned,
blacker now than ever. There was a petulance about Herod, an irritation, a suspicion, a sudden looking round as if he felt someone behind him; into the dungeon he would never go.
Then about this time a strange piece of news came up to him from Galilee. Scarcely had John been disposed of, than it was reported that another Man had appeared in Capharnaum, and was doing things uncanny. Like John He was winning the people; more than John, He was said to have power to heal the sick, to give sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, to cure lunatics; the people even believed that He could raise the dead. The Pasch was drawing near; round about the Lake of Tiberias there was great excitement. The Pharisees did not like it, his political supporters, the Herodians, were suspicious; there was talk of this stranger, Jesus, being called a King. On the whole it had been thought well to let Herod be informed; since he had disposed of John, he might think it well to dispose of Jesus also.
Herod heard the news, but his anxious and conscience-stricken soul read it very differently from that which his informers had expected. Herod had no faith, therefore he was superstitious; he had blood upon his hands, therefore he fled from a pursuing Nemesis. He had sapped himself to cowardice, therefore he always stooped beneath an imagined hand ever uplifted to strike him down. Just at this moment this thing had happened; just when John was dead, it was reported that another had appeared at Capharnaum. He put two and two together. It was only too evident. He would sit alone in his apartments overlooking the Dead Sea, that constant reminder of Divine vengeance, and brood upon it. A servant coming in would stand and listen to him as he muttered to himself, careless who might hear:
'This is John the Baptist
He is risen from the dead
Mighty works shew forth themselves in him.'
Through this channel of the servants what ailed Herod soon got abroad. Something must be done; he must be given companionship, distraction, or he would go mad. At the same time he must not be contradicted. Herods were not amenable to contradiction; and with an idea such as this obsessing him he could only be humoured. So they came, now one, now another of his friends. They talked the matter over; they let him have his say; solemnly they pondered and affected to believe with him that possibly this was indeed the risen John. Then others came and modified their tone. Over there by the Jordan Elias had gone to Heaven in a chariot of fire. It was commonly supposed that he would come again to earth; was it possible that this might be Elias? Or indeed any of the ancient prophets? For that prophets might return again was a common belief.
Thus they tried to play upon the tetrarch's superstition. They dared not oppose it; they dared not say his brain was disordered; he was in no mood for that, But the more they tried to divert the miserable old man's fancy, so much the more did he question, and in the end come back to the first conclusion that haunted him. If he could only gain an opportunity to see this Man, and to judge for himself whether he were John or not, he would be more at ease.
'Which Herod hearing said
John I have beheaded
But who is this
Of whom I hear such things?
John whom I beheaded
He is risen from the dead
And he sought to see him,'
In little more than a year from that day the opportunity would come; but the time was not yet.