Life has become what we would say is an externally orientated one. The quality of our life is shaped by our exterior environment, from bank account to homely comfort. As some say, we live in an artificial era and we depend upon it. The concern is the little interest that so many place upon the importance of our internal experience.
Great mystics of all traditions have embraced the wisdom that declares that to know oneself is to know God. It is by pursuing the interior journey that we come to know ourselves more fully and ultimately, in our deepest realms of being we discover the richer dimension of the Spirit. Spirit testifies to the genuineness of life’s experience.
We have just read an account of a man who was far from truly knowing himself. Herod was the typical leader caught in the demands of nation, political leadership. Trying to walk the precarious path of pleasing all he fell badly into the abyss of self denial caused by not knowing himself.
JOHN THE BAPTIST
John the Baptist was not the conventional citizen, who would meekly obey in the face of physical intimidation. John knew himself and spoke his voice with conviction. It was a voice crying in the wilderness of a far from inspiring society. His message overturned the conventional thinking and behaviour of his day in the way Jesus dared to overthrow the tables of the money changes. Both men were beacons of light in a spiritually dark society.
Word had come to Herod that a man by name of Jesus was doing extraordinary things. He feared the rumours that were spreading that it was John the Baptist who had come back from the dead, for Herod had had him killed.
THE TRUE HEROD
It is at this point that we begin to see more clearly the true character of Herod, and behind the external role of King he is a very confused man, who has little idea of who he is as a person, nor the values he truly espouses. Above all he has no inner fortitude. The gospel tells us the story of how he came to behead John the Baptist. It starts with Herod marrying the wife of Herod’s brother wife. John had criticized him pointing out that the law did not allow this. Herod perceived John was a righteous man and liked to listen to his teaching, but John’s criticism of Herod had forced his hand to put him in prison.
At a function held in the palace, the daughter of Herodias danced so delightfully that Herod offered her anything up to half his Kingdom. On her mothers instruction she asked for Herod’s head on a platter. In front of all his guests he felt he could not refuse her request even though he believed John was a righteous man. Wherever we turn, Herod is in the constant process of juggling his actions according to what is best for himself in the complexity of life. He has denied the faintest glimmer of knowing himself and standing for what he truly believes in.
JESUS AND THE TRUTH
Standing before Pilate, Jesus is questioned on whether he is a King. He replies they are your words. I have come for one thing and that is to tell the truth. Pilate responds, what is truth?
PILATE AND HEROD
What a contrast John and Jesus on the one hand, Pilate and Herod on the other. The latter have no idea of who they are or what they believe. They are pawns in the swing of public opinion. Jesus and John are men of integrity. They voice their opinion, irrespective of the circumstance they find themselves in. They know themselves, a knowledge arising from the deep inner reflection upon the meaning of life, the prioritizing of their inner human needs. One recalls that both spend considerable time in their earlier life in the desert reflecting upon life.
TO KNOW YOURSELF IS TO KNOW GOD
‘To know yourself is to know God, is a common adage of all great mystics down through the age. We live in an artificial world of exteriority and humans are increasingly losing touch with our inner being. The spirit calls us to dare to stay faithful to this ultimate journey of life. This is the truth that will set us free.