Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
When the daughter of this same Herodias came in and danced, she delighted Herod and his guests; so the king said to the girl, 'Ask me anything you like and I will give it you.' And he swore her an oath, 'I will give you anything you ask, even half my kingdom.' She went out and said to her mother, 'What shall I ask for?' She replied, 'The head of John the Baptist.' The king was deeply distressed but, thinking of the oaths he had sworn and of his guests, he was reluctant to break his word to her. At once the king sent one of the bodyguard with orders to bring John's head.
Mark’s Gospel is terse and to the point. His favorite word is ‘and,’ although ‘immediately’ appears frequently, too.
There are no long speeches from Jesus or anybody else in his little book about Jesus’ ministry. Mark … or whoever wrote this Gospel … moves quickly from one event to the next with no pause to catch your breath.
But he pauses … for 17 verses … to tell in detail the story about how John the Baptist was killed by King Herod, who thought Jesus was John come back from the dead. Herod had John executed as a favor to his wife and daughter, who beguiled him with her dance.
It seems his wife, Herodias, didn’t like what John said about their illicit marriage. Neither did Herod, but he was also fascinated by John and kept him around (in prison) to listen to his rants. I suspect Herod believed John was speaking important truth to him, but not one he was prepared to act upon.
The saga ends when, after too much wine, Herod makes a promised he loathes but knows he must keep.
I wonder why Mark spills so much ink on this tawdry incident.
There were those in the first century who thought John might be the Promised One, the anointed Messiah of Israel. His execution gets him conveniently out of the way so the rest of Mark’s narrative can focus on Jesus, making it clear that Jesus is the One, not John.
I doubt this is the reason Mark spends an unusual time on this story, although I can’t read the author’s mind any better than you can.
What I find in Herod is a common division in the human heart. We know what is good and may be fascinated by what we should do, but we fail to do it. The Apostle Paul, whose letters comprise much of the New Testament, talks about this same struggle. He wrote personally of his struggle, saying that the good I would do, I don’t; while that which I should not do … that I do.
Being a king or a person with power doesn’t exempt anyone from this internal struggle. It is universally human. The difference between the powerful and others is that those with power exact greater hurt on others in the process of resisting what is best.
Perhaps, like Herod, there are powerful social pressures pushing us the other way. Maybe protecting our current way of life and living keeps us from acting on our deepest, truest convictions and the values of the Gospel of Christ.
Whatever Mark’s reason for giving this story so much space, it is clear that Herod was unwilling to give up life as he knew it in order to save it and live the life of God’s kingdom, and this is what Jesus calls us to do.
Pr. David L. Miller