URC Daily Devotion Tuesday 21st February 2023

Tuesday 21st February 2023
St Matthew 14: 1 – 21

At that time Herod the ruler heard reports about Jesus;  and he said to his servants, ‘This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’  For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been telling him, ‘It is not lawful for you to have her.’  Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet.  But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod  so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask.  Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.’  The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given;  he sent and had John beheaded in the prison.  The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother. His disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus. Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.  When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’  Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’  They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’  And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’  Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.  And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.  And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.


Today’s passage has been painted, made in to a play by Oscar Wilde, and an opera by Strauss with the ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’, but if we are taken in by that classy façade, then our disgust at this cacophony of incest, lust, greed, and the vilest injustice has been dulled.

Today’s Herod was the son of Herod (the Great), and Phillip was his half-brother.  Dad Herod executed some other brothers and gave orphaned granddaughter, Herodias, to half-uncle Phillip as a wife.  They had a daughter, Salome, then Herodias left Phillip and moved in with half-uncle-cum-brother-in-law Herod (today’s Herod), and that’s when John the Baptist stepped in.

John the Baptist calls out this morally-corrupt rat’s nest and winds up in prison for his trouble.  Herod liked to listen to John, but was also in love with his position of power.  He throws a massive party and brings out his young step-daughter-cum-great-half-niece-cum-cousin-twice-removed for men to drool over.  Testosterone takes over, and he makes a showy and rash promise.  Then instead of having the guts to admit he’s done something stupid, he gives in to the vengeful scheming of his wife-cum-sister-in-law-cum-niece, and murders John to save his pride.

It’s a sorry tale of all that is worst in humanity.  And all that John’s friends can do is mourn.  Sometimes things really stink, and people get away with stuff they should not get away with.  Other people suffer for things that are not their fault.  It’s not right and it’s not good.

Then came one who spoke of God who wipes every tear from our eyes, and of a world where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.  Do we want a community, a nation, with values and behaviours like Herod and Herodias?  Or do we use our gifts and talents, stretching ourselves, to try to make the world a better place for children like Salome, and all vulnerable children?


Gracious God, encourage and help us to be speakers of truth, empowerers of the voiceless, and protectors of the vulnerable.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Today’s writer

The Rev’d Dr Michael Hopkins is minister of a group of Methodist and United Reformed Churches in and around Farnham, Surrey, and Clerk of the General Assembly.



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