The story of the death of John the Baptist (Mark 6:17-29) is truly the story of one bad decision after another. There are many points at which the violent ending could have been prevented.
Herod could have stopped himself before rashly promising Herodias’ daughter anything she wished (frankly, he should have known a promise like that was asking for trouble). Herodias could have risen above her grudge and told her daughter to request something (anything!) other than John’s severed head. The daughter could have resisted her mother’s command, refusing to be a party to murder. And Herod—who, it should be noted, is deeply distressed by the request—could have risen above his fear of looking weak to his guests and family and refused to order the execution.
But he doesn’t. He—like his wife and stepdaughter—gives in to his worst instincts, and a man dies as a result.
My own life doesn’t involve quite this level of drama. Yours probably doesn’t, either. But I still think there’s a universal resonance to this story, and it has to do with how we make decisions.
What guides the choices we make? Is it ego, or a need to look good, like Herod? Are we driven by a personal grudge, or by the desire to stamp out a truth that is too uncomfortable to face, as we see with Herod’s wife?
Or do our decisions come from the best parts of ourselves: our love, our compassion? Are we guided by the desire to forgive? Are we strong enough to listen to our conscience, even when it’s inconvenient? Do we embrace peace and reject vengeance, even if it means others will call us weak?
The stakes, for us, are rarely as high as they are for Herod and his family. But every day, in little ways, we have to make difficult choices. And when we let ourselves be guided by our best selves, not our worst, the decisions we make will look very different from those made in today’s Gospel. They may not be easy, but they will be blessed.
This in-depth look at the Catholic encyclopedia on habit provides much food for thought on how to be guided by our best selves.
Ginny Kubitz Moyer is a mother, high school English teacher, and BBC period drama junkie. She is the author of Random MOMents of Grace: Experiencing God in the Adventures of Motherhood and Mary and Me: Catholic Women Reflect on the Mother of God. Ginny lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, two boys, and about thirty thousand Legos. You can find out more about her here. She is the author of our Blessed Conversations: The Seven Sacraments found here.