The beheading of John the Baptist. -- Now that’s quite a story.1 A king taking his brother’s wife, a drunken party, an erotic dance, political plotting and a beheading. But before we look to see if we can find any Good News or words of wisdom for us…
Reading the Gospel today, I was reminded of the Tower of London that I was privileged to visit just a few weeks ago. There were many famous beheadings there – including Anne Boleyn, the woman for whom King Henry VIII defied the Catholic church. Since the Catholic church did not allow divorces– Henry the VIII took over the church, created a new denomination – Anglican – and made himself the head. This allowed him to simply nullify his marriage to his first wife Catherine of Aragon and Mary Anne. But, as you may recall, they didn’t live happily ever after. Alas for Anne Boleyn, she was stalked by courtly intrigue and accused of infidelity. But there was a bigger problem…(which we know now wasn’t her fault!)… she did not produce a male heir to the throne. THAT apparently, was a capitol offense. So.. Off with her head!
King Henry the VIII and King Herod have some things in common. King Herod wanted his brother’s wife – Herodias. This would have been completely acceptable, honorable even, if his brother Philip had died and Herod was stepping in to care for the widow. But this is not the case. This is incestuous adultery. That is why John the Baptist calls him to account.
Herod locks up John the Baptist to keep him quiet. But he is intrigued by John’s message. He sees him as a holy man and likes to listen to him. Maybe Herod has misgivings? Herodias – at least as Mark tells the story -- has no such qualms. So when Herod – at his birthday party, perhaps a bit drunk -- after watching a dance by her daughter Herodias, he rashly promises his daughter or maybe she’s really his niece, whatever she wants, up to half the kingdom. Just think: what would a young girl want? I mean… she could have asked for a pony! But instead… she asks her mother and Herodias – eager to be done with John the Baptist’s criticism of her illicit marriage – tells her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist. The daughter does –but adds a detail: on a platter.
Herod has a choice to make. Does he retract his rash promise and save John’s life but look the fool? Or does he keep his word – and sacrifice John?
Kings and political leaders never want to admit they made a mistake. The price is John’s head.
Where is the Good News in our Gospel? If you stick with just these verses of Mark – then Good News is hard to find. But this is not the whole story. It’s not even the whole chapter. In prior verses, Mark has just told us about Jesus’ miraculous healings and his preaching and teaching – which was well received everywhere…except in his hometown. Undeterred, Jesus sends his twelve disciples out into the countryside, preaching repentance, casting out demons, anointing and curing the sick. This is why, as we read in the first verse of today’s scripture: Jesus’ name came to King Herod.
People were talking… and wondering, “Who is this Jesus?” But King Herod thought he knew: “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” Then we get this story as flashback. There is no good news in it – only a guilty – and perhaps remorseful king.
But that is not the end of the story. In the next verse – not printed here -- Mark goes on to tell us what happened when the 12 disciples returned. They gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. Good News was shared. They cared for their neighbor. They demonstrated the love of God in word and deed. In short: The kingdom of God was at hand.
You can see the contrast. King Herod misuses his power for selfish gains and ends up with a monstrous hangover of regret. Jesus and his disciples preach repentance and forgiveness and offer healing and wholeness. That’s Good News.
That’s the Good News that we too are called to live out in our neighborhoods, in our homes and in our work and school. There is no doubt that we still live in a bad-news world. And we get that bad news faster than ever before. Between social media and traditional media, news travels so fast that it is hard to check to see if it is true. But this doesn’t give us a pass.
Like John the Baptist, we too are called to speak the truth. And sometimes that is not comfortable. We would rather not make waves. We would rather that people got along. We would rather not have our heads cut off.
OK ….That one is understandable.
I hope and pray that telling the truth won’t cost me my head. But we are called to speak the truth even when we would rather not.
But as Christians, as followers of Jesus, we are called not only to speak the truth, but to speak the truth in love. Speaking the truth in love means always remembering that the person with whom we disagree is a child of God. Speaking the truth in love means listening and being respectful as well as speaking. Speaking the truth in love means letting our words AND our actions proclaim the love and grace of God for all people.
This, brothers and sisters in Christ, is what Jesus Christ calls us to do. Because our neighbors whether they are male or female, rich or poor, born here or immigrants, regardless of the color of their skin – they and we need to hear and live out the Good News of Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church
5530 42nd Avenue N, Robbinsdale, MN 55422
July 15, 2018
The Scripture for the day: The Holy Gospel according to Mark, the 6th chapter.
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herodhad married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. The Gospel of the Lord.