I find Stephen Cottrell’s portrayal of Herod quite chilling. Perhaps I would find it easier if he came across as either a bit more likeable, or just downright nasty. What I find disturbing is that he seems to have convinced himself that he is the victim in this situation, that he doesn’t have a choice.
And how familiar that sounds! We all, I think, know people who hold all the power but still manage to play the victim. That person who, whatever the issue, somehow manages to come across as hard-done-by, no matter how culpable their own part in the situation. It’s easy to align Herod with those people and say with the pharisee “thank God I am not like that.”
But actually, aren’t we all a bit like that? It’s so much easier to blame circumstances, other people, even God….. anything really, except ourselves. But in the end, we are responsible for our own decisions, our own actions or lack of them. However hard the circumstances, however great the pressure, we do have a choice. And a responsibility. It’s easier to hide behind “I had to because…” or “I couldn’t until…” but we have to face up to the truth: we, like Herod, are responsible for how we live.
One of the “four last things” on which Christians traditionally concentrate during Advent is Judgement. It’s a concept which has rather fallen out of fashion in some parts of the church (and been too much emphasised in others) and it’s certainly not a comfortable idea to sit with. But it is part of the faith we inhabit. I hope and pray that my account of my life will never ring as hollow in God’s ears as Herod’s did in mine.