This week we will see two parallel themes. First, rejection of both Christ and of John the Baptist; then expansion – of Christ’s ministry by delegating his authority to his disciples.
This chapter starts with two feasts and leads naturally to a discussion of several kinds of satisfaction. The first feast is the birthday party of Herod the tetrarch. The second is the feeding of the five thousand by Jesus.
The daughter of Herodias is both a niece to Herod and his stepdaughter. Josephus tells us that her name is Salome. At the feast held for Herod’s birthday, “the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod” (v.6). There is nothing in the text that absolutely assures us this dance and/or the way Salome “pleased” Herod was utterly sensuous, erotic or otherwise unsavory. From what we know of the times, the culture and the Herods, however, it is understandable that this is how interpreters have often understood the scene.
I have no desire to dig into any of that, but the available literature is plentiful. You are welcome to track it down for yourself. Or just look at our own times, culture and public figures to compare, in which case Herod might not look so bad. Let’s give the tetrarch and his guests an undeserved benefit of the doubt and imagine that Herod was pleased in a completely wholesome way. His satisfaction was of the innocent entertainment variety. It was a great show and Salome deserved some applause for a job well done. This kind of satisfaction never lasts. We want the next show, the next thrill, the next laugh or the next diversion. There is nothing wrong with it, but does have serious limitations.
An uglier form of satisfaction comes when Herod offers Salome “whatever she might ask” (v.7). Heeding her mother’s counsel, she says, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter” (v.8). Herodias is training the girl to walk in her vengeful, merciless footsteps – and Herod complies. Her thirst for blood is satisfied, but some forms of satisfaction are simply wrong. John was the messenger to Herod and Herodias that their forbidden relationship (the brother and sister-in-law divorced their spouses to marry each other) was wrong. They killed the messenger to block out the message. Alas, every part of this series of satisfied desires is misguided.
On to the feeding of the five thousand, or far more when we count the women and children. We might think more in terms of a sellout crowd in an NBA or NHL-sized arena. The crowd was hungry, Jesus feeds them and there are twelve baskets full of leftovers. The key point for us is “And they all ate and were satisfied” (v.20). Jesus meets the need of the weary crowd and they all feel like they just finished Thanksgiving dinner.
if we stopped right there we would already have learned something helpful. Jesus is willing and able to meet our needs. He does not consider them trivial or choose to ignore them. Many of our desires are good and helpful. We need food to survive. This desire ought to be satisfied.
But there is more. When John tells the same story, he adds considerable dialog as a followup. There, in John 6:35, Jesus says, “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” This is the ultimate satisfaction.
Putting our faith and trust in Christ fulfills a desire that we may not even want to acknowledge. We can satisfy ourselves on entertainment and when the satisfaction wanes, we can do it over and over again. We can allow our selfish, dark and harmful desires to consume us. If we satisfy this inner Herod or Herodias, no good will ever come of it and never has. Some desires deserve to go unmet. Still, there are natural, healthy desires that inform us of our basic needs. Jesus is happy to meet these, but they are not the whole story of our existence.
C. S. Lewis observed in Mere Christianity, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
We were made for an unfallen, eternal world that is free from corruption. The problem is that we have corrupted this world and sentenced ourselves to death in the process. We have taken the beauty that God gave us and ruined it beyond anything we can repair. This is not one category of problem like crime or climate change. There is no cause to support that will solve this one. We can only admit our need and let Christ satisfy it. He alone is able. When we do so we will find that world for which we were made. Everything else finds its place only when we let Christ have his place first.
John Piper has put it like this, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” He is right. Let’s determine not to let ourselves be satisfied with anything less. We need to prioritize our desires properly and, as citizens of heaven, glorify the God who made us. We can only be fully and forever satisfied in Christ.