Conscience: Divine Compassion And Human Wickedness

Conscience here is the court of judgment of one’s actions and inactions. It searches the motivating factors to human actions and inactions giving one a reason for action or inaction. Today’s readings present to us the motivating factor and judgment of Divine actions and human actions as borne of compassion and wickedness respectively. The first part of today’s Gospel gives us an account of human conscience though in a brief summary while the major part of the Gospel and the first reading give us a detailed account of divine compassion. Nevertheless, a more detailed account of the events that led to the manifestation of human wickedness is to be given here to make for a better comparison of this divine-human causes of action.

Herod the Great had so many sons. He was a man when tortured by suspicion murdered members of his own family, including his wife, Mariamne, and two sons. This caused the Emperor Augustus to remark;  “I would rather be Herod’s pig than his son.” Today’s episode is about his children. One of his sons; Herod Antipas had a brother in Rome also called Herod Philip. This Antipas seduced his brother’s wife (Herodias), and persuaded her to leave his brother and marry him. In order to do so he had to put away his own wife. In doing this, Herod broke two laws: he divorced his own wife without cause, and he married his sister-in-law, which was a marriage, under Jewish law, a prohibited relationship. Without hesitation John rebuked him. In this episode also, we see Herodias as a woman of loose morals and of infidelity. She was a vindictive woman, who nursed her wrath to keep it warm, and who was out for revenge, even when she justly condemned. And- perhaps worst of all- she was a woman who did not hesitate to use even her own daughter to realize her own vindictive ends. It would have been bad enough if she herself had sought ways of taking vengeance on the man of God who confronted her with her own shame. It was infinitely worse that she used her own daughter for nefarious purposes and made her as great sinner as herself. This story is same for parents who stain a child with guilt in order to achieve some evil personal purpose. Salome, Herodias’ daughter is another actor in today’s episode. She was a royal princess who acted as a dancing-girl. The dances which this girl danced were seductive and immoral. For a royal princess to dance in public at all was an amazing thing. Herodias thought nothing of outraging modesty and demeaning her daughter, if only she could gain her revenge on a man who justly rebuked her.

After killing John, fears and prick of conscience caught up with the king such that when he saw Christ he thought it was the same John who had come back to life to torment him.  According to Origen, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth, the mother of John, were closely related (Luke 1:36). That is to say, Jesus and John were blood relations (cousins). And Origen speaks of a tradition which says that Jesus and John closely resembled each other in appearance. If that was the case, then Herod’s guilty conscience might appear to him to have even more grounds.  He is the great proof that no man can rid himself of a sin by ridding himself of the man who confronts him with it. There is such a thing as conscience, and, even if a man’s human accuser is eliminated, his divine accuser is still not silenced. Most unfortunately, it was through Herodias that Herod lost his fortune and his kingdom, and was dragged away into exile to Gaul.

On the contrary this form of lax conscience exhibited by the above named personalities is opposed by the compassionate heart of Jesus. Though he was running for safety from the hands of Herod who was bent on killing Him presuming he was John come back to life, Jesus was so compassionate that even when he was so tired of work and seemingly frustrated, he was so disposed to welcome the people who gathered around him; teaching them, healing them and feeding them. It tells us of the compassion of Jesus. When he saw the crowds he was moved with compassion to the depths of his being. “He had compassion for them and cured their sick!”(Mt. 14:14). Jesus had compassion for His flock, the restless souls that followed Him wherever He went so that He could feed them with spiritual food that comes from the richness of the Word of God. What a compassionate savior!

Remember you are like the food you eat. Finally, we need to ask ourselves: “What really sustains us? What sort of food is feeding us? Junk food? Food that doesn’t nourish us? Are our bodies bloated and fat while our souls are lean and hungry? Why should we go on living in spiritual starvation when Christ is ready and very willing to feed us and strengthen us always? The Psalmist and the prophet Isaiah both re-iterate the theme of trusting in God to provide for us. Isaiah uses the beautiful metaphor of eating and drinking applied to the Word of God. The Word of God will sustain us even more than wine, milk and bread. So if we are needy, we simply have to come to the waters of Scripture and eat the food that is provided for us. The Psalmist cries that “You open your hand to feed us Lord, and satisfy our needs.” The Lord has compassion on us and he loves us.

Do not leave this Mass thinking you have nothing to give others. Do not think you have nothing to give them in order that they might overcome their hunger and thirst. Jesus is here to give you the Bread of Life, not so that you can keep it all to yourselves but so that you can feed countless numbers of those around you. Remember he asked the disciples; ‘give them something to eat yourselves’. He makes the same request of you today! Give them something to eat! What type of conscience have you? A wicked or compassionate conscience? Jesus invites us today to develop a compassionate disposition towards everyone around us. Never get tired of people’s plight because the Lord is never tired of yours!

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