Today we are honoring the gruesome martyrdom of “the greatest man ever born of a woman,” (Matthew 11.11) as a warning against pride and greed. John the Baptist stood as a bold and public defender of truth and morality when he reminded Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." (Mark 6.18) Later as Herodias’ daughter danced for Herod, he was so taken by her beauty that he swore to give her anything she wanted. Since it was Herodias that Herod desired, and whom John the Baptist reminded that he could not have, Herodias convinced her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. As if this was not enough, scripture says, “And the king was exceedingly sorry; yet, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her.” (Mark 6.26) Herod allowed his lust, pride, and ego to dictate his actions. According to the Scriptures Herod did not want to kill John the Baptist, “knowing that he was a just and holy man.” (Mark 6.20)
How many times do we allow our pride and ego to dictate our actions? Too many times! What is the worst thing that would have happened if Herod had refused Herodias’ daughter and saved John’s life? He wouldn’t have been able to have an affair with her for one thing, but Herod’s lust could not allow that to happen.
We must watch carefully because our passions lurk around every corner to urge us to some immoral act, but we must deny the passions and remain faithful to God and His commandments. We must control our passions rather than allowing our passions to control us. Interestingly enough, when we see pride and greed in others, we easily identify it as something bad. Why don’t we recognize when pride and greed take over our hearts, but only the hearts of our enemies?
Just like King Herod, we allow our ego to control our passions. Out of fear that maybe we might lose some social standing our ego creates, paralyzes us. Maybe we fear losing control of a particular situation, as if we are the only person who has the answers. Maybe we feel we will be excluded from important decisions or events. Let’s be honest. We just are afraid people will think less of us if we back down, so we press forward sometimes in spite of others.
I don’t want you to be fooled. As Orthodox Christians, we will indeed be excluded from decisions and events. We will lose social standing, but we must stand up like John the Baptist. We may lose our heads, but we will gain our soul in heaven.