Matthew 14 illustrates to young people the fact that there are times when we associate with the wrong people, we put ourselves in positions that can quickly spiral out of control. Herod and Herodias are in an unlawful relationship, and when John calls them out on this, Herod has him cast into prison. The events that unfold after his imprisonment terminate in John’s martyrdom. From the text we read:
For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife. For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger. And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath’s sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother (Matthew 14:3-11 emphasis added).
The point made in class is that Herod knew that John was legitimate. Nevertheless, his romantic relationship took precedence over doing the right thing. Many teenagers find themselves in a similar circumstance where they are tempted to let the allegiance to the one they are interested in over the advice of their parents or prophetic direction. Deciding what we will do in advance of these types of situations will help us to retain our resolve.
The second idea that we emphasized was that Herod didn’t want to execute John. But he felt that he had to look good in front of his cronies rather than let John free. In an effort to retain his so-called friends, Herod took the life of an innocent prophet of God. This helped to facilitate a discussion about peer pressure among the youth. We shared many stories of times when youth do stupid things because they are afraid to look bad. Once again, deciding ahead of time how we will handle peer pressure situations will strengthen our determination. A great talk to share in class is the conference address by Bishop Stevenson. He relates the pressure two young men felt to stay at a party that was quickly getting out of control. You can see the video here.
From his talk he relates the following:
I would like to focus on the first trait that describes them: “valiant for courage.” To me, this describes the conviction of these young men to courageously do what is right, or as Alma describes, “to stand as witnesses of God at all times … and in all places.”2 The 2,000 stripling soldiers had countless moments to demonstrate their courage. Each of you will also have defining moments in your life requiring courage. A friend of mine, John, shared with me one of those moments in his life.
Some years ago, John was accepted at a prestigious Japanese university. He would be part of the international student program with many other top students from around the world. Some enrolled with a hope to deepen their understanding of the culture and language, others viewed it as a stepping-stone to an eventual profession and employment in Japan, but all had left home to study in a foreign country.
Soon after John’s arrival, word of a party to be held on the rooftop of a private residence spread among the foreign student population. That evening, John and two friends made their way to the advertised address.
Following an elevator ride to the top floor of the building, John and his friends navigated the single narrow stairway leading to the rooftop and began mingling with the others. As the night wore on, the atmosphere changed. The noise, music volume, and alcohol amplified, as did John’s uneasiness. Then suddenly someone began organizing the students into a large circle with the intent of sharing marijuana cigarettes. John grimaced and quickly informed his two friends that it was time to leave. Almost in ridicule, one of them replied, “John, this is easy—we’ll just stand in the circle, and when it is our turn, we’ll just pass it along rather than smoke it. That way we won’t have to embarrass ourselves in front of everyone by leaving.” This sounded easy to John, but it did not sound right. He knew he had to announce his intention and act. In a moment he mustered his courage and told them that they could do as they wished, but he was leaving. One friend decided to stay and joined the circle; the other reluctantly followed John down the stairs to board the elevator. Much to their surprise, when the elevator doors opened, Japanese police officers poured out and hurried to ascend the stairs to the rooftop. John and his friend boarded the elevator and departed.
When the police appeared at the top of the stairs, the students quickly threw the illegal drugs off the roof so they wouldn’t be caught. After securing the stairway, however, the officers lined up everyone on the roof and asked each student to extend both hands. The officers then walked down the line, carefully smelling each student’s thumbs and index fingers. All who had held the marijuana, whether they had smoked it or not, were presumed guilty, and there were huge consequences. Almost without exception, the students who had remained on the rooftop were expelled from their respective universities, and those convicted of a crime were likely deported from Japan. Dreams of an education, years of preparation, and the possibility of future employment in Japan were dashed in a moment.
Now let me tell you what happened to these three friends. The friend who stayed on the roof was expelled from the university in Japan to which he had worked so hard to be accepted and was required to return home. The friend who left the party that night with John finished school in Japan and went on to earn degrees from two top-tier universities in the United States. His career took him back to Asia, where he has enjoyed immense professional success. He remains grateful to this day for John’s courageous example. As for John, the consequences in his life have been immeasurable. His time in Japan that year led him to a happy marriage and the subsequent birth of two sons. He has been a very successful businessman and recently became a professor at a Japanese university. Imagine how different his life would have been had he not had the courage to leave the party on that important evening in Japan.
Young men, there will be times when you, like John, will have to demonstrate your righteous courage in plain view of your peers, the consequence of which may be ridicule and embarrassment. Additionally, in your world, skirmishes with the adversary will also be fought on a silent, solitary battlefield in front of a screen. Technology with its substantial benefits also brings challenges not faced by generations before you. A recent national survey found that today’s teens are tempted at alarming levels each day not only in schools but also in cyberspace. It revealed that teens who were exposed to images of drinking or drug use on social networking sites were three to four times more likely to use alcohol or drugs. Commenting on the survey, a former US cabinet secretary stated: “This year’s survey reveals a new kind of potent peer pressure—digital peer pressure. Digital peer pressure moves beyond a child’s friends and the kids they hang out with. It invades the home and a child’s bedroom via the Internet.”4 The demonstration of righteous courage will often be as subtle as to click or not to click. Missionaries are taught from Preach My Gospel, “What you choose to think and do when you are alone and you believe no one is watching is a strong measure of your virtue.”5 Be courageous! Be strong! “Stand ye in holy places, and be not moved.” 1