Mark 6:14-29 – The 7th Sunday after Pentecost â€“ for Sunday, July 12, 2015
â€œSo Herodias had it in for John. She wanted to kill him, but she couldnâ€™t.â€ (Mark 6:19)
I worked on my high school newspaper for several semesters. Though my teenaged journalistic memories have faded like newsprint left in the sun, I recall the faculty advisorâ€™s nameâ€”Mrs. Pepperâ€”and the only time she complimented me.
Mrs. Pepper was impressed with my, er, sexual inventiveness.
Yeah, baby, sex.
When you read that three-letter, monosyllabic word, did anything bob to the surface of your mature mind about your high school experiences with . . . sex? Or, since youâ€™re reading my words, what did you imagine about me and . . . Mrs. Pepper?
Alas, tuck away your lustful fantasies. Nothing happened! Well, at least nothing in aâ€”wink-winkâ€”â€œBiblical way.â€
During the only assignment I remember from my stint as a high school newshound, I wrote a sparse (maybe ten sentences, one column) summary of a research project comparing men and womenâ€™s attitudes and actions. Maybe the research involved how men vs. women shopped, or watched television, or laced up their shoes. Regardless of the statistical conclusions, I suggested a headline for my modest journalistic endeavor:
Differences in Sex
Or the headline may have been â€œSex Makes a Difference.â€ Iâ€™m not sure of the exact wording. But Iâ€™m sure sexâ€”SEXâ€”was prominent. Mrs. Pepper praised me in front of the other students for writing a story that would likely be read by our readers. She told us, nudging her tortoiseshell glasses up the bridge of her nose and then primly smoothing her ankle-length skirt . . .
Forget the glasses and the skirt. I canâ€™t recall what Mrs. Pepper wore! But oh that compliment! Sex, baby! It sells!
Whichâ€”no surprise here if youâ€™re even distantly familiar with John the Baptistâ€™s garish endâ€”leads me to wonder about Herod the King. This wasnâ€™t the Herod who bloodied the Christmas manger stories of Jesusâ€™ birth, but the next generationâ€™s updated model of corruption. In Markâ€™s Gospel, notable for brevity, there was a surprisingly long, lurid account of Herod and John the Baptist. Herod feared the deceased John had been revived in the form of Jesus. Since Herod had given the orders to separate Johnâ€™s head from his body, the king had been confident the Baptizer was dead. Now, he doubted his confidence.
How did John lose his head?
Herod, for reasons that surely included sex, had married Herodias, his brotherâ€™s wife. Herodias, Mark pointed out, â€œhad it in for John.â€ She apparently didnâ€™t like John public and frequent condemnation of her brotherly bed hopping. Herod, for reasons that surely included sex, made outlandish promises to Herodiasâ€™ daughterâ€”strangely, also named Herodias (or Salome, depending on your source and sensibilities)â€”after the younger woman wowed the king with her dancing abilities. Something tells me she wasnâ€™t only showing off her ballroom skills when she performed for his royal pain in the butt.
Herodias the mother tells Herodias the daughter to have Herod fulfill his eager promises by slicing off Johnâ€™s overly critical head.
So does blood spilled at the kingâ€™s party.
With the Gospelsâ€™ various depictions of Johnâ€™s macabre demise, arenâ€™t they preparing us for Jesusâ€™ grislier fate?
In this grim, overwrought scene, Mark, the earliest written of the Gospels, was the only one to mention Herodâ€™s opinion about John the Baptizer. Though itâ€™s not a â€œsexyâ€ line, itâ€™s a haunting, honest view of powerful people. And maybe of you and me . . .
Herod, Mark wrote,
. . . regarded [John] as a righteous and holy person, so he protected him. Johnâ€™s words greatly confused Herod, yet he enjoyed listening to him.
Apparently, when John spoke, Herod listened. Johnâ€™s words charmed the royal ruler. Johnâ€™s views impressed the man with the crown. Johnâ€™s figures of speech or finger pointing or how he dramatically paused between accusations caused a smile to form on the kingâ€™s lips.
In other words, John was cheap entertainment . . . until he wasnâ€™t. Because when kingsâ€”or you and meâ€”are asked by the righteous and holy person to look at how we hurt others, how we hurt creation, how we ignore God, how we harm strangers, how we readily put ourselves first and others last, we are more than willing to chop off their head.
How many heads were â€œchopped offâ€ until slavery ended?
How many heads were â€œchopped offâ€ until child labor laws limited the cruelty?
How many heads were â€œchopped offâ€ until women and minorities could vote?
How many heads were â€œchopped offâ€ until gays could marry under civil law?
In Herodâ€™s case, maybe it was a little (or a lot of) sex that prompted him to end Johnâ€™s confusing words.
Sex does sell.
Violence too. If it bleeds, it leads.
And yet it is often resistance to changing our ways that causes us to ignore, belittle, or even kill the righteous and holy person.
In my reading and re-reading of the Biblical stories, Iâ€™m never truly shocked Herodâ€”a decadent, dreary kingâ€”sliced and diced John because a young babe flaunted her assets and demanded that her favor was served on a platter. But Iâ€™m always shocked, and rightfully humbled, when I read (even the thousandth time) that Jesusâ€™ own disciples abandoned him near the end of Jesusâ€™ earthly life. Maybe they didnâ€™t cut off his headâ€”or hammer a nail into his fleshâ€”but I think his righteous and holy words also confused them.
But Jesusâ€™ holy, honest words werenâ€™t merely a history lesson or a headline.
If Iâ€™d described the events between Herod and John in my high school newspaper, or on todayâ€™s Internet, I might slap SEX onto the headline. Mrs. Pepper would still be correct: itâ€™ll get people to read! But itâ€™s not the sex, or the violence, or even a daughterâ€™s tawdry first century version of Dancing With The Stars, that troubles me.
With Jesus, how holy and righteous his words are and his way is.
Until they interfere with what I want to do.
And then . . .