It was the best birthday party ever! I was turning 9.
After Sunday church service, we headed to our local McDonald’s. A section of the restaurant was marked reserved by red and yellow balloons. The hostess welcomed us by directing our excitement to a pile of empty BigMac styrofoam containers (this was pre recycled paper wrappers and I’m convinced, when the sandwich patties were bigger) and Happy Meal boxes for some friendly games. The celebration continued with us kids exhausting our energy in the McDonald’s themed playground before ending with the singing of “Happy Birthday” and a serving of their very own ice cream cake.
Herod the tetrarch had a party too (Matthew 14:6-11). His was opulent and lavish and showcased his prestige, wealth, and influence. At his party, his niece who is about 12 to 14 years of age danced before Herod and his guests. This greatly pleased him that he offered the young girl more power and authority than her maturity allowed.
What was it about the entertainment that moved Herod to such a grand gesture?
Some thinkers suggest that the dance was more innocent and childlike than seductive and erotic. And the audience was amused and delighted as a loving parent would be by a child twirling in her princess dress versus being aroused by innocence sexualized. I lean toward the latter.
For one, while the nature or intent of the dance is not explicitly communicated - whether playful, naive or sexual - it can be seen as another facet of debasement and dehumanization in the story that culminates in the gruesome, undignified, vengeful beheading of John the Baptist. The party narrative depicts to what extent one’s heart can be darkened when hardened to truth telling and consumed by contempt.
Two, both parents exploited their authority and influence to save face. Herod used his step-daughter for selfish gain including charming his guests. Herodias, her mother manipulated the situation including the girl’s proclivity to please to satiate personal revenge. They failed to protect and honor that which has been entrusted to them.
Stories like this one matter. They help me say yes to be a part of a team to witness the work of brave and big hearted men and women bringing the light and hope of Christ to those entangled in the ills of human trafficking. Moreover, I believe it matters to God. His word does not shy away nor hide from evil and his word brings to our attention the reality of harm so that we can engage with courage, integrity, faith, hope, and love.
In part 2, I’ll reflect on Matthew 14:13, “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.” I’ll consider how Jesus’ response to the birthday party gone awry reveals his heart toward us, humanity.