Cowards Pass the Mustard


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 147:12-20, Ezra 7:(1-10) 11-26, Revelation 14:1-13, Matthew 14:1-12

Batman famously characterizes criminals as a “superstitious and cowardly lot.” After reading Matthew’s account of the execution of John the Baptist, we may be inclined to agree.

When Herod Antipas heard about Jesus, he was convinced John the Baptist had been raised from the dead with terrifying new powers. Was he superstitious? Definitely. But the unjust circumstances of John’s death had Herod looking over his shoulder out of guilt as much as superstition. Cowardly? Yes again. Herod condemned John to death because he was afraid to break an unwise oath to Salome (the daughter of Herodias who was Herod’s sister-in-law, niece and lover) in front of his guests. Herodias had Salome request John’s head on a platter, because John protested her incestuous relationship with Herod. Herod himself had no taste for John’s particularly gruesome execution, but he valued social standing and power above justice. Herod shows us dictators and their ilk are paranoid for a reason: the evil deeds required to secure power will come back to haunt you. Jesus may not have been John the Super-Zombie Baptist, but he was everything Herod feared.

In the previous chapter of Matthew, Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed. In his day, wild mustard was a weed farmers tried to keep off their lands, but it always came back. Keeping it in check required constant vigilance, or it became a great nuisance that choked out the crops. That is what the inhabitants of the Kingdom of God are to the unjust: a constant threat that keeps popping up in unexpected places. When unjust dictators rise to power, they nearly always kill, imprison or otherwise silence those who cry for justice, but doesn’t there always seem to be a new mustard crop springing up?

Great evil is rarely born fully formed, but is built from an accumulation of casually unjust acts; at any point Herod could have stopped the chain of events that led from his relationship with Herodias to John’s execution. Similarly, the Kingdom of God sprouts from tiny, persistent seeds. Let love and justice grow wildly in our hearts until they choke out evil.

Comfort: If we don’t cut love back, it just keeps growing.

Challenge: Pay attention to your small acts; they build the larger you.

Prayer: Teach me, Lord, to act justly, even when it’s not convenient.

Discussion: What small acts of kindness have kept you from despair?

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