John’s head on a platter

In the Gospel account of the death of John the Baptist (Mark 6: 14-29), there is one element that has puzzled me for many years.

The daughter of Herodias dances for Herod’s birthday party. He offers her anything she wants. A dutiful daughter, she asks her mother who tells her “the head of John the Baptist.”

Baptistry door, Florence

Baptistry door, Florence

When the young girl returns to Herod’s birthday party, she asks for John’s head “on a platter.”

Why a platter?

That’s a macabre image, a bloody dessert. I’ve never read an adequate explanation of why she doesn’t just ask for John the Baptist’s head, as her mother had told her, but adds “on a platter.”

Maybe she didn’t want her hands bloodied and so sought a platter to collect the blood.

Do we also cooperate in the death and suffering of others but want a dessert – without the blood?

Do we want to avoid getting our hands bloody, but still want to enjoy the benefits of the death of those who prick our consciences?

We need, as Albert Camus noted, “to confront the blood-stained face that history has taken on today.”

Without the platter.

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