The Last Enemy
Those who commit murder assume a power which does not belong to them; only one has authority over death, whose rule lies in its defeat
The trend of ostentatious violence continues. The capacity to film and upload it to the internet may have begun with so-called ‘happy slapping’ in schools, but it has long since deepened in intensity. Ever more inventive ways of killing people and publicising it are developed, but they serve to demonstrate the shame and weakness of those who commit murder.
Every time the story of the death of John the Baptist is read (Matthew 14: 1-12) we shudder with disgust. It is a seedy narrative of sex, intrigue and manipulation culminating in the senseless death of a good man at the hands of a corrupt palace. In a parody of his own words, these people weren’t fit to tie the sandals of John the Baptist, but they cut off his head all the same.
There are unconscious echoes of the death of Jesus. Both men died painful and undeserving deaths because a political leader was not strong enough to stand up to the manipulation of a cohort of spiteful plotters. Both Herod and Pilate were intrigued and in awe of these two untitled and charismatic men. They sensed an unworldly power which transcended and judged their own provisional authority but they lacked the will to protect it. Both deaths left the followers of John and Jesus bereft and bewildered; the final line describing John’s disciples taking the body and laying it in a tomb having undertones of Easter.
Herod feared that Jesus was John being raised from the dead. Like many political leaders of history, he was absorbed by superstition. Plenty climb to the top over the corpses of those who got in their way. Once at the summit of this pile, leaders feel very exposed; guilt and fear generate morbid superstition. Herod remained palpably unsettled by his arbitrary execution of John. Jesus had become for him a dark avenger, a man touch with unnatural powers and coming for him like the Terminator. We know he had entirely misread Jesus but that was not what Herod felt in his waking moments of the night.
John’s death has parallels today. Many people are murdered by the powerful because they speak truth to it fearlessly, adopting Gunter Grass’ maxim that ‘the duty of a citizen is to keep his mouth open’. These killings are meant to intimidate others into keeping quiet; from Mexico to Russia we find this cynical abuse of sacred human life. Others are killed brutally to satisfy the sadistic lusts of those who presume power confers entitlement; from Nigeria to Iraq people are beheaded for being different. This is the narcissism of major difference, where only those who think and act like the killers are allowed to live around them.
We possess a sense of impotent rage at the way some people end their lives. The fear and the loathing we feel at random, barbaric, meaningless ends culminate in the Death of all deaths at Calvary.
Those who commit murder assume a power which does not belong to them; only one has authority over death, whose rule lies in its defeat, whose redemption awaits the dispossessed.
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