If ever one can detect in scripture the “Two Standards” at war in an individual, it is in the occasional appearance of Herod Antipas, especially in today’s Gospel. Herod was ‘chip off the old block’, as the saying goes, a man driven by the intoxicating rush of power as was his father, Herod the Great. He does not trust Jesus, that ‘annoying’ threat who attracts followers by teaching the simple way of love.
We do not know whether Herod Antipas is the Herod ruling at the time of Jesus’ birth, but we do know he is the Herod of Jesus’ adult life. According to most biblical scholars, Herod Antipas is a lustful, jealous ruler who is ever on the alert against possible challengers to his throne, including his two brothers who rule states contiguous to his territory of Galilee and Perea. A painting of him in the Brooklyn Museum captures a bewildered look under a furrowed brow, a wide-eyed, fearful glare mixing curiosity with anger. One can detect the battle within, the standard of good being overtaken by the standard of evil.
It has always intrigued me that this slight pericope of Luke’s Gospel is inserted among miracles and missioning—almost out of place. Suddenly, in the midst of so much goodness, we hear of Herod wallowing in his distrust of Jesus. He is sulking between good and evil. This portends the murderous end of Jesus’ life.
Jesus is the standard-bearer of goodness for us. We do not have to stand on the pinnacle of power to face the Two Standards that St. Ignatius Loyola developed in the Spiritual Exercises: Acceptance of Jesus or Acceptance of Evil. We only have to desire to be true followers of Christ and learn to live simply and humbly without praise and adulation. These virtues, alone, submerge the power of evil and strengthen the power of good.
—Sr. Mary Ann Flannery, S.C. is Executive Director of Jesuit Retreat House, Cleveland OH.