There is a short tale tucked away in the Gospel accounts that describes the demise of John the Baptist. It seems that John had been speaking out against Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife, Herodias. And Herod had imprisoned John for publicly denouncing the union as unlawful. And now, Herod was stuck between a rock and a hard place. He couldn’t kill John because John was righteous and holy, and it was strangely fun to listen to him preach. Further, Herod feared backlash from the people who revered John as a prophet. But Herod also couldn’t let John go free. John might keep on spreading dissent about how Herodias shouldn’t be with Herod. Also, Herodias was carrying a pretty sizable grudge against John, and Herod didn’t want to displease his wife. So, John sat in chains, wasting away. And this situation was working fairly well for Herod, until the day of his big birthday bash.
During the festivities, Herodias’s daughter performed a beautiful dance. Herod was so pleased that he offered to give this girl whatever she wanted. Anything. Like, up to half of the kingdom’s wealth. Anything. So, the girl went and found her mother, to get some guidance on what to ask for. Do you know what Herodias told her daughter to ask for? The head of John the Baptist. And since Herod had publicly vowed to give this girl whatever she wanted, when she asked for John’s head on a platter, he could not refuse her. John’s head was severed from his body and brought to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. And a would-be legacy was lost, just like that.
What might half the kingdom’s wealth have meant for this girl? For her children, for her children’s children? What could she have accomplished with half the kingdom’s wealth? Could she have built an entire city? Fed and housed the poor? Created a center for learning? Even just a dancing school would have been preferable to the legacy she ended up with: a head on a plate. What can a head do? Absolutely nothing. Worthless. A legacy was stolen because a mother was nursing a grudge.
How we live today sets the stage for what we will do when an opportunity presents itself. Living like Herodias, consumed by bitterness and resentment, limits our legacy. It impacts our children and their children. We think it won’t. We think that we will be able to separate ourselves from unforgiveness when that critical juncture comes. We forget a basic rule of life: people get better at what they practice. Whether we intend to or not, we get better at what we repeatedly do. So, when the time comes for a legacy-defining moment, we will do what we’ve trained ourselves to do. If we’ve been living in bondage to unforgiveness, to fear, to self-centeredness, to perfectionism, to pride, to whatever, we will do that. And it will cost us a legacy. If we’ve been living in freedom, in generosity, in graciousness toward ourselves and others, in humility, we will do that. And it will build a legacy that lasts long after we have taken our last breath.
Fortunately, we do not have to remain slaves to what we have been practicing. Jesus is a chain-breaker. In Christ, we can repent of what we have been rehearsing and begin lining a new kind of life: a life submitted to the Spirit and His guidance. A life that builds a strong legacy. What chains have you been wearing? It is for freedom that you have been set free. The power of Christ can enable you to make a change today that leaves a legacy tomorrow. Recognize, repent, and just watch and see what God does, through you and in generations to come!