catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 4 :: 2010.02.19 — 2010.03.04


Pre-guilt and the suffering Herod

I gave Salome his head. His head! How will I ever escape its haunting stare?

I remember the hall of guests. It was my birthday after all and no less than the finest of society had come to celebrate. The food and wine were unsurpassed (I had had too much of both) and her mesmerizing dance took me to the edge. If there was a heaven, I thought, this was it. How, then, could hell have entered the room so quickly…so surprisingly? It’s not that I wasn’t familiar with it showing up, but this was different.

Her request — brief, indelible — forced the blood into my face with a rushing, tingling pulse, and drained it as quickly, causing my mind to spin. In that surreal moment before the silence of my guests, I remember stepping outside of myself. I had never experienced a thing so strongly and have never quite been able to describe it, but it’s as though I were looking at my own person with a cinematic hyper-focus. Everything stood completely still in a frame of paused action. I orbited myself, capturing every detail: tightened jaw, beaded brow, winced crow’s feet. I could see the slight retreat of my head backward in inconspicuous shock and my blank eyes gaping nearly through the girl in bewilderment.

I couldn’t avert my attention from the three-dimensional self-image there in the spotlight, though out-of-body (was that the real me?), I was fully aware of the frozen faces of anticipation on my frozen guests in the background. I heard no banquet sounds — only my breath, contained and amplified, as if my ears were plugged. Then suddenly all movement and sound resumed. I had to reply.

An acquaintance of Cuza, my financial minister and guest — Mark, I believe was his name — later wrote it so accurately: ‘The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her’ (6:26). How did Mark know? One doesn’t use perilypos* loosely. In my long regret over that night, I’ve discovered that in only two other cases do the holy books from Jesus’ day mention someone being greatly distressed. Why should this surprise me? I brought great hurt to others in my lifetime but never do I remember being so intensely sad and grieved all around as I did then. Have you any idea what it’s like to make an excruciating decision against your own will? It is pain and nothing less.

The first was a rich young man who experienced perilypos when Jesus asked told him to give away his possessions. The second was Jesus himself in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night his follower betrayed him. From what I can gather, he anguished over crucifixion and desperately wished to avoid it. He grieved intensely about making a right decision. How curious and jealousy-invoking. He had the time and prerogative to escape but knew clearly that he would not. 

My own situation was similar, yet so very regrettably different. I, too, saw my final decision before actually going through with it. I watched it unfold frame by frame against my will. In that crucial moment between request and reply, a duo of vanity and cowardice bore upon me like a speeding train. I marveled at that John the Baptist far too much to kill him, and yet insecurity before my influential guests plowed on. No, I was not like Jesus. I grieved intensely only because I knew I would make the wrong decision. Guilt racked me before guilt could even be assigned to me!

Jesus’ revelation came as a prescient gift; a holy and courage-lending confirmation. Mine? As pre-guilt. A warning of impending reality. I knew the moment she asked that I would grant her wish. Why didn’t I take a second orbit? Heaven knows my historic ambivalence needed it.** Why didn’t I stop for counsel? Because it was my moment to show them I was strong! They would love me better, I said. They would love me! Oh, what a wretched hunger!

Does everyone experience these fore-tellings? They assisted Jesus, but struck me. Both of us felt their force, their accuracy, their unrelenting determination, and neither of us refused. Who among the living can? In my endless fantasy, I praise the God I never knew for granting prescient gifts, and stand in cursing defiance against pre-guilt from becoming reality. Alas, these now cannot be.  

* – The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words
** – For more on Herod and Cuza, see Herod Antipas: A Contemporary of Jesus, by Harold Hoehner

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