“Useless Success”: What Did Herodias Do With John’ Head Head?
Mark 6, 14-2
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a member of the Congregation Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers, Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the parochial vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
While preaching in the convent chapel of the Immaculate Heart Sisters retirement home Onitsha on Tuesday 9th of February, 2013 I put up this question to the elderly sisters: “What did Herodias do with the head of John the Baptist (JB)?” This question was occasioned by the fact that after the gospel reading which narrated the account of the beheading of John the Baptist, I discovered that many of the elderly sisters were touched by this reading as though they were hearing it for the first time in their life time. This question was attempted by only one sister, and her opinion was that Herodias dug a pit and buried the head of John the Baptist. Definitely, it seemed a difficult nut for them to crack, as of course it was for me and perhaps for most biblical scholars since there is no known further mention of Herodias in biblical accounts, especially, with regards to the issue at hand. The only thing the bible mentioned is that John the Baptist’s disciples came and carried his headless body and buried (v.6). Any answer to this question is only but a personal opinion or mere guess. What did Herodias do with the head of John the Baptist? May be she prepared “pepper soup or “nkwobi” with it and savored its sweetness with her daughter. May be she dug a pit in the ground and buried it there as our sister suggested. Another possibility is that she could have embalmed it, thus turning it into a mummy and placed it somewhere in here cupboard so that occasionally she could take a look at it and mock John the Baptist her victim. Of course, these are all opinions.
Once, during one of the English football club’s championship, one of the frontline clubs, “A” needed a must-win in their next match (even with a lone goal) to advance to the next round of the championship. This qualification however depended on another match where their fellow contenders club “B”, for the same slot in the next round must lose if they (“A”) must qualify after their expected win. As usual, at such occasions, both matches were played simultaneously at the same time at different locations. At their center club A defeated their opponents with a very wide margin of 6-0 goals in their favour. Without knowing the outcome of the other match they jubilated because of their wonderful display. Unfortunately, their fellow contender club B, who needed just a draw to grab the slot, defeated their opponents with a 1-0 goal margin. Thus, making the number of goals scored by club A, useless and eventually leaving the players devastated and worn out. I call their six goals “useless goals” because they did not help club A get the slot they were looking for in the next round. This story is employed to help us appreciate how a success can be useless and unprofitable. Such is the case of Herodias’ “success” or “triumph” over John the Baptist.
Herodias succeeded in getting a revenge which culminated in the beheading of John the Baptist. The head was given to her on a platter of gold but was not useful to either her or her daughter who could have got a better price for her “good seducing dance”. Reflecting on the possible answers proffered above, one still finds out that John the Baptist’s head brought her more pain and trouble, and as such, she lost out completely. For instance, let us take it for granted that she felt some joy and relieved for few minutes after receiving John the Baptist’s head. How long did this joy last? After few minutes, it must have dawned on her that she was handling an inanimate and useless object from which she could get no further revenge or derive any joy keeping it. If she decided to embalm John the Baptist’s head for keeps in her cupboard, it will certainly become for her and her entire household an object of fear each time they enter the room and remember that a human head lies therein. In other words, their home is now a morgue. Horror will continue to be Herodias’ best companion as long as John the Baptist’s head is with her. Also, if she decided to dig up the earth to bury John the Baptist’s head, it will also cause her some stress doing this. At least, she will waist her time burying her own enemy. The last but not the least, if she decided to allow it decay while she watches on, we all know that this is the most unthinkable thing to do because, a few days later she will definitely become tired, sick and uncomfortable as a result of the pungent smell that will ooze out from the decaying head and the can of worm she has made for herself. What a pity! It all boils down to what the Preacher laments about: “vanity upon vanity, all is vanity” (Ecc 1, 1-2).
Revenge is useless, that is why God tells us “vengeance is mine” (Isa. 34, 8; Lev 19, 18). Often times we spend more time plotting revenge, than we do in reflecting upon the truth we are told. If we try alone and fail we look for those who will directly or indirectly help us achieve it. It does not matter to us at such occasions what it will cost us. Unfortunately, we hurt ourselves the more. Instead of the happiness we are expecting to get, we end up sad and miserable, while our target continues to triumph. Herodias thought that life ended here and that killing John the Baptist will bring her joy. But she was wrong, because she and those who played out her script only helped John the Baptist to advance to the next stage of eternal glory. They made his journey faster and easy, while they all remained sad and miserable in this world, of course, with their punishment for their actions awaiting them. William Shakespeare’s story revolving round Shylock becomes relevant here. Shylock must take his pound of flesh, no problems, but he must not shed the blood of his victim. What happened? He lost everything, his money, his pound of flesh and the time he would have used to advance his life and business.
It is really a shame that many of us both religious and lay faithful, spend years looking for our opportunity to revenge or hurt those who we feel at some point in time in our life were obstacles to us. Paul admonishes us thus, “Do not seek revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, it is written: ‘it is mine to avenge’” (Rom 12, 19). Irrespective of the torture we undergo bearing this burden in our hearts, we endure it with such courage that we will never display when the clarion call to do good comes calling. The thought of revenge make us vulnerable to different vices. It exposes how weak we are at being in control of our own lives and forging ahead in spite of all odds. It perpetuates our pains and our sorrow. Most times we burn our own fingers while seeking revenge. The Igbo’s refer to it as “O bia ra igbu m, gbuo onwe ya” or what the new generation fanatical Christians will refer to as “back to sender”. Revenge most times, usually ends as a boomerang. Even the “success” we achieve in the whole endeavour of revenge is usually a “useless success” as it was for Herodias, because they profit us nothing.
The head of John the Baptist is with God. John the Baptist is whole and hearty in the Eternal City – The New Jerusalem, enjoying the endless beatific vision. No part of his body is missing there, because, the creator has made all things new for him. Fashion out for yourselves my dear friends where Herodias, her plot and her crew are! May they almighty God help us to drop those negative plots in our hearts so that we do not waste our precious time plotting revenge and achieving a “useless success.” Amen!
Peace be with you!