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Friday, August 6, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Matthew 14

I often chuckle inside when I hear someone characterize the Bible as a collection of ancient documents that is completely irrelevant for today. I chuckle because the issues the Scriptures speak to are so similar to the issues we face today. Let’s take the story about what happened to John the Baptist that is contained in today’s passage.

The story of John the Baptist’s demise turned on one critical moment. Herod was having a party and – in the midst of the revelry – made a promise to give Herodias’ daughter anything she wanted in return for her lively performance. She asked for the head of John the Baptist.
Now if Herod was thinking clearly (i.e. not drunk), he would have felt comfortable saying something along the lines of “Actually, I meant ‘anything you want – within reason.’ Your request went beyond the bounds of what is reasonable so just ask for something else.”

Herod didn’t do that, however. He gave the young woman her request.

And why did he do that?

The passage explains his motivation by saying, “Unwilling to lose face with his guests, he did it – ordered John’s head cut off and presented to the girl on a platter [emphasis added].” In other words, Herod went along with the request because he wanted to fit in and give the majority of the people what they wanted.

That same storyline was played out just a couple of days ago here in California when Federal Judge Vaughn Walker was in a position much like Herod’s. He had presided over a trial exploring the constitutionality of Proposition 8. It would have been extremely easy for Judy Walker to listen to lots of voices clamoring around him – reminding him that the majority of voters had passed the proposition so therefore he should simply go along and give the majority of those who voted on November 3, 2008 what they wanted. Lots of other judges might have done that: they might have been unwilling to lose face and gone along with popular opinion to simply get along.

Thankfully, Judge Walker veered away from Herod’s example and had the wisdom to do what he felt was right instead of what was popular.
Few of us may find ourselves in the position of being either a regional ruler or a federal judge. While we may lack those impressive titles, each of us still has the ability to profoundly affect the lives of others through our own day-to-day actions.

In the midst of our daily interactions with others, we too face moments when we have to decide the sort of thing Herod and Judge Walker decided: will I do what’s popular, or will I do what’s right? That’s a choice each of us must decide for ourselves in that moment. My prayer for today is that each of us draw upon the strength of the Spirit so that we are willing to lose face and do what’s right rather than what’s popular.

Til next time …

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