“When Herod heard John [the Baptist], he was greatly perplexed; and yet he like to listen to him.” Mark 6:20b
Herod had a conscience; his name was John the Baptist. John had continually called Herod to accountability for his sinful ways, including having his own brother murdered so he could have Herodias, his brother’s wife. Herodias wasn’t fooled and hated John. She wanted him dead, as if that would take away her guilt in her complicity of her husband’s death. Somehow she couldn’t use enough influence on her new husband to have John put to death because of his obsession with the Baptizer.
Then it happened. Herod’s daughter came to a banquet they were having and danced for the king, pleasing him very much. He must have been proud and delighted because he promised her anything – all she had to do was ask. There was Herodias’ opening: she told the girl to ask for the head of John the Baptist. And so, Herod, not wanting to break his promise to his daughter, had John beheaded and the head presented to the daughter who would have then given it to Herodias. Gory. Sad. Manipulative.
I wonder if Herodias really had satisfaction from John’s death or if she had nightmares for the rest of her life. Maybe she thought she had “won.” It would be interesting to learn what Herod’s response was. This passage in Mark 6:14-29 doesn’t give us much except that John pushed Herod’s buttons, and Herod was fascinated as well as perplexed. Didn’t he really understand Jewish law? As a man who probably studied the Torah as a child, he surely would have known the law, especially the Ten Commandments. Apparently, he didn’t pay much attention to them, particularly in the case of adultery and murder. Yet, when he heard about Jesus, he said that John had been raised from the dead.
John’s death clearly affected Herod in some way. When have our actions affected someone else? When have WE pushed someone’s buttons? How do we know when OUR buttons are being pushed? In what ways do we handle those situations? Do we react like Herod and Herodias, manipulating and trying to control those who might be bugging us? Do we become the button pushers in return, trying to retaliate? What can we learn from this sad story?
The forces of good and evil seem to regularly “draw the line in the sand,” as the old saying goes. They challenge each other, and all of us struggle with that tug of war inside us between them. I know someone who was the “prize” in the middle of her parents’ fights. Whoever could win her to “his or her side” won the argument. Sadly, it left her feeling a great need for control since she had very little control in her life. She grew up sassy and argumentative, and she still hasn’t learned how to care about someone else without trying to figure out what’s in it for her. Even worse, her idea of truth is taking something someone said and, even though using the same words, make it sound totally different. Manipulation and selfishness shape her behaviors, and she has trouble even telling herself the truth. Maybe she doesn’t even know how to tell what truth is. Maybe she doesn’t care.
We can respond differently to the negatives in our lives. We DO have a choice. We can choose to fight back or run away. Or we can stand up to the evils in the world and not allow others to manipulate us (to the best of our ability). We can chose to seek the truth, to respect even though who disrespect us. When someone pushes our buttons, we can begin to condition ourselves to respond with common sense and a shrug of the shoulder, and we do not need to ever give into it.
It can also keep us from over-reacting to others and work at not trying to push their buttons in return. John the Baptist stood firm in his convictions and in his call to accountability. So did Jesus. It’s a great challenge to us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, but with practice, it gets easier and almost second nature.
The next time someone pushes your buttons, stop to assess the situation before you say anything and think through what is really happening. Are they justified? Or are they manipulating? Interesting to think about and THEN act upon.