Luke 23:1-25 The Oddness of King Herod


Herod plays a strange role in Luke’s Gospel. Or one might say a mercurial role. He imprisons and beheads John the Baptist because he can’t stand John’s criticisms. Yet members of his court follow Jesus, or at least their wives do, as Joanna the wife of Chuza is named as one of the women who surround Jesus in chapter 7. Two chapters later, Herod shows curiosity towards Jesus – he wants to meet with Jesus, possibly to learn from him. By chapter 13, his intentions seem to have changed, as some Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod wants to kill him. Finally, when Jesus is arrested and brought before Herod, Luke goes out of his way to tell us that Herod “was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign.” Herod can’t seem to make up his mind about Jesus, yet throughout the Gospel it’s clear that Jesus has made up his mind about Herod.

Herod is like a tycoon who keeps a stack of self-help books beside his bed. He knows that his wealth and power haven’t brought him happiness, let alone joy, and he is seeking, always seeking, for something that can make sense of this. But he doesn’t really want to know why he’s still suffering even though he has everything a man could possibly want. Because the answer is that the very act of having and holding power and wealth is the problem. Desiring the wrong thing has become a habit with him. Yet he lies awake and night and eventually cracks open one of those self-help books. For a moment they reassure him, at least enough to go back to sleep. But the essential insomnia of his soul will never be cured, and he’ll never be able to truly rest.

The problem is that Jesus is not a self-help guru. He could have joined Herod’s court, connived for power, and issued platitudes that unthinking people might accept as wise. But he wants nothing whatsoever to do with Herod, and actively avoids Herod’s attention. He knows that Herod will never give up wealth and power, will never agree to go through the eye of the needle and enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Herod will live his life in riotous unhappiness, secretly knowing that he must change, and deliberately resisting that change. Jesus stands silently before him. Thwarted by his silence, Herod mocks him, and sends him away.

It is a small enough incident in the midst of the passion, and yet it speaks volumes. Most of us are unlikely to beat and kill the people who refuse to be interested in our ego-tripping. Yet we are likely to mock and ignore them. How dare they stay silent before our striving? How dare they shrug off our protestations of good will? How dare they refuse to be flattered by our regard? Yet it is these people who might really change us. But they’re not going to waste their time. We will not impress them with our facades. Jesus will only raise his eyes to us when we’re really willing to change.