Church of England Diocese of Birmingham Frankley

Speaking Truth to Power

11 Jul 2021, 2:30 a.m.

During the last World Cup the National Centre for Domestic Violence ran awareness campaigns with the headline ‘If England gets beaten so will she’ overlaid on the image of a woman’s bloodied face. Reported cases of intimate partner violence increased by 38% when England lost and by 26% when they won or drew.

We are shocked by the unprovoked rape and murder shown by a policeman to Sarah Everard and the stabbings of the two daughters of Archdeacon Mina Smallman as they celebrated a birthday. Two policemen photographed themselves with the dead bodies, showing utter disrespect. Empowered men felt they could do what they liked.

Murder of women by relatives rarely makes the headlines because it is commonplace. In the UK a women is killed by someone they know, roughly every three days.

Sexual abuse and harassment of girls has become frequent, “normalised” in British schools and colleges. Many feel they have to accept it as part of growing up. 

Our use and discard culture has been reflected in the behaviour of both our Prime Minister and Matt Hancock, our now former health secretary. Hancock’s apology was for breaking the social distancing rules he had implemented, not for the damage he has done to his wife and children.

Johnson has at least six children, has had three wives and countless affairs and is the only British Prime Minister who has lived with his girlfriend in office.

The British public and Conservative party clearly support his “Jack the lad” lifestyle through voting him in. He insists on keeping his personal life private. Personal behaviour is never a private matter. It either strengthens community or weakens it.

When wives, mistresses and children are treated badly, it is not only their lives that are blighted. Those they rely on for support suffer.

John the Baptist spoke against Herod Antipas’ adultery with Herodias because their sexual sin was a misuse of power.

Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, was born into an utterly ruthless, family. He was one of nine sons and five daughters born to Herod the Great, the King who attempted to put baby Jesus to death and massacred all the baby boys of a similar age. Antipas was one of the more fortunate sons. Three of his half brothers were executed by their father along with one of his ten wives.

Antipas grew up in an atmosphere of fear, knowing that if he didn’t please his father, the consequences would be disastrous, not just for him but also for his mother and full brother, Archelaus. His father was in love with power and himself. He didn’t lavish love upon his children. He was insanely jealous of them.

Herod the Great, a convert to Judaism totally ignored the laws regarding marriage using his money to win popularity bringing grandeur to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Antipas was born into a family where immorality, incest, hypocrisy, and extravagant decadence were considered the natural trappings of money and power.

Herodius, the villainess responsible for the execution of John the Baptist was also born into this frightening family. Her father Aristobulos was one of Herod’s murdered sons and her grandmother Mariamne, one of Herod’s wives, was also executed by him. Without a Father and grandmother she was at the mercy of family abusers. It was not surprising, therefore that she married within her complex family. She was the niece and a blood relative of both her first husband, Herod Philip and her second husband, Antipas.

Herod Philip, unlike Antipas inherited none of his father’s dominions. He lived as a wealthy private citizen in Rome with their daughter, Salome who danced for her step father in the passage today. Herod Antipas went to Rome to seduce Herodius who was both his niece and sister in law.

To marry Herodias he had to divorce his first wife Phasaelis, the daughter of the King of Nabataea which led to a disastrous war when her father avenged his daughter’s honour. Many died as a result of Herod Antipas’ incest and adultery.

Sin always affects others. Those who sleep around and do not nurture faithful, lifelong partners rarely consider the consequences of their actions; children with no father in the home and no clear understanding of their heritage or identity; the breakdown of family life, poverty and the weakening of society.

Humans, often women are objectified, damaged and demeaned. When tempted we must learn to resist our impulses. Faithful, committed love is an act of will.

John the Baptist was imprisoned in the dark, dank dungeons of the castle of Machaerus, a grim fortress. For a man who had preached and lived in the open air, this must have been horrendous. The iron hooks by which prisoners were bound to the wall are still there.

His ministry in calling the nation to repentance was over. Alone and depressed he needed to know the news his disciples brought that God was healing and setting people free through Jesus.

While John was suffering for speaking truth, Antipas and his court were enjoying a banquet where there was plenty of food, drink and entertainment. Far from suffering for his sin, Antipas was enjoying a booze up on his birthday with his family, courtiers and leaders of Galilee.

Herodias’ daughter, who we know was called Salome from Josephus a historian of the time, was forced to dance seductively for her step-father. Encouraged by her mother, she behaved like prostitutes of the time. Poor, damaged, manipulated Salome! Antipas didn’t take advantage. Instead, pleased with what he saw, he made a stupid promise. He would give Salome whatever she asked for, up to half his kingdom.

Drunken men make stupid promises they usually regret when sober. His offer was an unsuitable gift for a young girl. Salome, understandably, didn’t know how to respond so she asked her Mum who saw her opportunity to finally get even with John who she felt had publicly humiliated her.

John was truthful and lived a holy life. Antipas had a guilty conscience fearing both John and the wrath of God. Salome’s request for John’s head on a platter, mediated through his wife was bloodthirsty and vindictive. Antipas should have repented, expressed outrage and refused to make good his promise. It meant losing face, admitting he was wrong and turning from his destructive lifestyle.

In front of friends and family Antipas didn’t want to be humiliated. He was deeply mired in evil. How could he put things right with his first wife, with those families who had suffered as a result of war and with his brother Herod Philip? What should he do with Herodius and Salome? He was now responsible for them. So Antipas took the easy way. Grieving, he sent a guard to behead John and bring the head to him on a platter which he gave to Salome who gave it to her mother.

He was a coward. He didn’t go to John. He sent someone else to do his dirty work.

Salome, already damaged by horrendous parenting, was faced with greater horror. She repeated the sins of her parents, marrying her father’s half brother, another Philip, probably for the power it gave her as he like Antipas also inherited part of Herod the Great’s Kingdom.

John never touched alcohol and lived a simple lifestyle whereas Antipas and his court revelled in luxury.

John showed strength and courage in speaking the truth, whereas Antipas failed to make a stand even when the request from Salome was so tragic.

John was willing to decrease and die so that Jesus could fulfil his ministry whereas Antipas was frightened of losing face amongst his courtiers and family.

John looked towards Jesus, who he called the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world for justice and freedom. Antipas remained troubled by his conscience and spent his life seeking the title of an earthly King.

Antipas’s conscience continued to trouble him. After the death of John, Jesus and his disciples continued to call people to repentance showing greater power than John casting them out demons and healing the sick. Antipas believed Jesus was John raised from the dead. He still didn’t repent.

Whereas Antipas brought a gift of death to his stepdaughter, Jesus invites us to come to him to receive forgiveness through his shed blood. He lavishes his riches and spiritual blessing on us. He is the best parent. He adopts us as his children and pours out his life-giving Holy Spirit enabling us to be holy and blameless before him in love.

May we like John and Jesus speak truth to power even though it is costly?