Ethics, for what and what does it cost me?

What do you think is wrong or right, and what is worth taking a stand for?

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I would like to start today directly with a Bible text (Matthew 14:1-12;NEÜ):

1 About this time Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, also heard what was being said about Jesus. 2 "This is none other than John the Baptist," he said to his people. "He has risen from the dead, that is why such powers emanate from him. "3 Herod had in fact had John arrested and bound and taken to prison. The culprit was Herodias, the wife of his stepbrother Philip, 4 for John had told him, "It is against the law for you to have her. "5 Herod would have liked to kill him, but feared the people, who thought John was a prophet. 6 The opportunity came when it was Herod's birthday. On that occasion, Herodias' daughter performed for the guests as a dancer. Herod liked her so much 7 that he promised under oath to give her anything she wanted. 8 Then she said, instigated by her mother, "I want you to give me here on a bowl the head of John the Baptist." 9 The king was upset, but because he had taken an oath in front of all the guests, he ordered her wish to be granted, 10 and had John beheaded in prison. 11 His head was brought in on a bowl and given to the girl, who passed it on to her mother. 12 Then John's disciples came and took the dead man and buried him. Afterwards they went to Jesus and told him what had happened.

I don't know if I have heard a sermon on this text before. At first glance it sounds more like Game Of Throwns than the Bible, but it is a real event and not made up, and one point in this text particularly appealed to me, which I would like to discuss in more detail later.

The miracles of Jesus

But the beginning of this story is also interesting. It starts with the miracles that Jesus did and that people told each other about.

The ruler of Galilee, Herod Antipas, who by the way was a son of Herod the Great, whom we hear about every year at Christmas, interprets these miracles as the deeds of a resurrected dead man.

Obviously, people believed in miracles much more at that time and interpreted a lot of things.

We know from the Bible that there was only one true resurrection of the dead with a change of essence, namely that of Jesus Christ.

There were other cases of the dead being raised, such as Lazarus, but these people remained normal people and then continued to live normally and died again at some point.

How would today's people interpret such miraculous healings as Jesus did at that time and tell others about them?

Esoterically inclined people would probably tell of spiritual healing, rationalistic people would perhaps try to find explanations that it was all psychomatic, and so on.

People very often try to explain everything, to understand and to be able to control it.

Especially with supernatural healings, I stumble over this again and again. In fact, there are still gifts of healings today, as it says for example in 1 Corinthians 12:28. I'm just not so sure how that is meant exactly. In some translations of this passage it says that God gives gifts to make well, in other translations it says that there are persons who have the gift of healing.

So does God give supernatural healings to some people in special situations or are there Christians who virtually always have the gift of healing and can always use it?

The basic Greek text seems to allow both translations. I find the second interpretation rather difficult because it feels to me like controlling and dominating God's gifts of grace. But perhaps I am wrong.

Let us now leave the entry point of this text and get to the core.

The new man

I read verse 3 and 4 again:

3 For Herod had John arrested and bound and taken to prison. Herodias, the wife of his stepbrother Philip, was to blame, 4 for John had told him, "It is against the law for you to have her."

Hand on heart: which of you, for example, wrote such a statement to former German Chancellor Schröder when he chose wife number 5?

Schröder actually had to pay damages for pain and suffering to the ex of his 5th wife, because a condition of the divorce was that this wife separate from Schröder again, because while they were still married, she already had a relationship with Schröder.

This did not happen, whereupon the ex-husband sued Schröder and won.

With news like this, one wonders why it becomes news at all. I only found an article about it on, a news portal that I usually avoid.

On the surface, it seems to be a similar case.

Apparently Herod took his wife away from his brother Philip and married her himself and that was against the law of the time. And the wife obviously agreed with that, because she instigated Herod to throw John into prison.

I don't want to dwell on whether such a law would still make sense today or not. Personally, I believe that the legislator should concentrate on the areas that guarantee the maintenance of coexistence and not rule all the way into questions of personal living.

Personally, generally speaking, I think divorce is wrong and according to the Bible, it is not wanted. But we are all flawed, sinful human beings, and as a result we can become so guilty of each other that it is no longer possible. Therefore, there will always be separations, and in my opinion it is also right that the principle of guilt has been abolished in divorces. After all, what criteria should be used to judge guilt in a separation?

The cost of ethics

But let us now finally get to the heart of the text.

Let us be clear about what John was put in prison for. He criticised the ruler's way of life.

He went to prison for an ethical issue.

He was not arrested for the Gospel, for human rights, or anything like that, but because he had criticised the personal, wrong behaviour of a ruler.

What is ethics actually worth to us?

That is difficult.

If we were forbidden to speak of the Gospel, then we would, hopefully, not adhere to it.

But to criticise the personal misconduct of a man, a rather despotic ruler at that, should we?

That is still dangerous today, by the way.

In Turkey, for example, there is Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code, which threatens insulting the president with up to four years in prison. Since Erdogan has been in power, the use of this paragraph has increased by 500% compared to his predecessor (source: Wikipedia).

Any criticism of him has already been charged as an insult.

Take, for example, the doubt about Erdogan's academic degree. According to Turkish law, a president must have a university degree. Probably the document he presented is not authentic, the names and the dates do not match the reality. That's what it says in Wikipedia.

From a purely legal point of view, one could criticise this, but at least in Turkey one risks a lot by doing so, even imprisonment.

Is it worth it?

Was it right for John to criticise Herod's way of life? One can also take the position that the authorities do what they want anyway, we use the time to point to Jesus, which was also John's mission.

But John's mission was not only to point out the coming of the Messiah, but he also made it clear why people need the Messiah.

An example from Luke 3, 7.8; NL

7 And so John said to the people who were coming to him in great numbers to be baptised, "You brood of vipers! Who has persuaded you that you can escape the coming judgment of God? 8 Prove by your way of life that you have truly turned away from your sins and turned to God. It is not enough to say: 'We are the descendants of Abraham. Nothing can happen to us.' That proves nothing. If God wanted to, he could make children of Abraham out of these stones.

Now John was also a special person with a special mission. I couldn't talk like that. I hope that by my way of life you can see a little bit that I am a Christian, that I am always ready to bring my faults and sins to Jesus and that I am also ready to change or to let God change me.

Perhaps it can only be seen from John's commission that he was quite painless in holding his wrongdoing against Herod.

But again, how much are ethics worth to us?

Let's take the issue of "abortion", for example. There are quite a few voices in the green and left camps who want to completely abolish paragraph 218 and consider it a basic right of women.

If we speak out publicly on this, we will make ourselves unpopular. And to make matters worse for this specific issue, the Catholic Church, which has always been an important opponent of abortion, has completely gambled away its credibility in terms of human rights protection due to all the abuse scandals.

Of course, it is not always easy. I believe that we are basically in agreement on the rejection of abortion, without going into too much detail.

With other ethical questions it is more difficult. John derived his judgement from a commandment in the Old Testament and I don't think his judgement itself was questioned at all.

Today, we derive our ethical judgements from the whole Bible, also from our experiences, and we often have to be very defensive there, because of course one can be wrong.

And I also find it difficult to judge how serious misconduct is.

As an example from politics: The Berlin politician Franziska Giffey had cheated on her doctoral thesis and was therefore deprived of her doctorate. The board of examiners ruled: "The doctoral degree was acquired through at least conditionally intentional deception of considerable extent. The dissertation thus does not meet the requirements of Good Scientific Practice."

Now there are voices that say you can do good politics without a doctorate. Of course that is so.

But how does her behaviour fit in with the desired job as mayor of Berlin? How does Berlin then function as a centre of science?

We can see that the topic of ethics remains difficult, and it is not uncommon to have to make a judgement on a case-by-case basis.

Dealing with accusations of misconduct

Let us look at how the accusation of misconduct was dealt with.

Herod would have liked to have John murdered, but was afraid of an uprising. Power preservation before personal sensitivities, so he was a shrewd despot.

But his (new) wife was also pissed off by John's criticism and so she prevailed on Herod to at least put him in prison. But that wasn't enough for her. She uses her daughter to force Herod to murder John.

You also learn from this text that you shouldn't promise all kinds of things without reason: "No matter what you want, you'll get it."

So a certain residual sobriety in the midst of all the euphoria never does any harm.

Apparently, this woman named Herodias was so wounded in her pride that she acted regardless. After all, there was still the risk of an uprising.

Now none of us here are despots or spouses of despots, but criticism can annoy us, me too.

Personally, I sometimes need a day to get over my anger and then, with distance, rationally judge for myself whether the criticism levelled at me is justified or unjustified.

And also the tone and also the medium makes the music. I noticed the other day that I am much friendlier in analogue than in chat. Yes, you often write there what moves or annoys you and the wording is not infrequently unintentionally sharp.

For me personally, I want to learn to accept criticism and to overcome a possible phase of anger rather quickly.

And I would also like to learn again and again to express criticism in such a way that the other person does not get angry and certainly does not demand my head on a plate.


I summarise.