Now Herod the ruler heard about all that had taken place, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen. Herod said, ‘John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?’ And he tried to see him.
This private scene is tucked between two famously public moments in Jesus’ ministry: the disciples’ first missionary journey. After today’s text is the feeding of the multitudes. Here are two golden moments to witness Jesus at his best.
Luke writes, however, that Herod, in the comfort of the palace, desired/ tried/ strained to “see” Jesus. You’ll remember Herod’s father, whose governorship was split between his four sons. Herod the tetrarch (meaning “ruler of a quarter”) was given the shortest stick, with the indignity of lording over the non-citizens of the empire. In this text we hear for the first time that it was under the tetrarch’s order that John the Baptist was beheaded. But word gets around that the prophetic impulse has not died with John. And the tetrarch is intrigued and petrified: “John, I beheaded. But who is this…?”
Questions regarding Jesus’ identity bombard the first section of Luke. But after Herod’s question, we no longer get questions, we get answers. Nothing wrong with asking God questions. The Good News is that God will answer—just not in the way we expect.
Tragically for Herod, with a question burning in his heart, Luke says: “and he tried to see him.” It suggests some kind of genuine strain toward the holy. But as we know, when he finally meets Jesus – on the way to Calvary – Herod desires Jesus to perform. He demands a miracle, because the language of performance and phantasm is the only language through which the desperate and distracted will take notice.
Luke’s “he tried to see him” speaks to the spatial, cognitive, spiritual dissonance of the two. If he really wanted to see Jesus, all he had to do was get out of the palace. To really see Jesus, all that was needed was to go where Jesus always is: with the oppressed, the immigrant, the non-citizen.
Our proximity with those whom Jesus loves gives us the focus to see Jesus, and more than merely see, but to follow.
I want to be where you are, Lord. I may run from it, I may go toward it kicking and screaming. But the safest place I can be is close to Your will. May it be so. Ase* and Amen.
* Ase or ashe (from Yoruba àṣẹ) is a Yoruba philosophical concept through which the Yoruba of Nigeria conceive the power to make things happen and produce change.
The Rev’d William Young, Pastor, Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ, Washington DC, USA