The Rev’d Derek Arnold
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DAILY REFLECTION 12 February 2021
READING Mark 6.14-29
King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”
Others said, “He is Elijah.” And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.” But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.
Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.
The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”
“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.
At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
Interestingly, this reading from Marks gospel sits between Jesus sending out his disciples in pairs on a mission of preaching, teaching, and healing, and then their return.
The story begins with reports and rumours of the work of Jesus and his disciples, and it presupposes that John has already been executed; especially as some regarded Jesus as possibly being John the Baptist raised from the dead, Elijah, or one of the other ancient prophets. Indeed Herod, seems to have mistaken Jesus’ identity, thinking that he was the resurrected John.
According to biblical scholars, this Herod is not the same Herod who ordered the slaughter of the innocent children; this is his son, Herod Antipas. And according to Josephus, the secular Jewish historian of the time, Herod Antipas, while visiting Rome seduced his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias, and they married.
When John learned of this new political union between Herod and Herodias, he did the right thing and spoke out against the marriage. John referring to a couple of passages from the book of Leviticus, chapters 18 & 20 (18 v16 and 20 v21), told Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’
It would have taken great courage for John to speak out against one of the highest political authorities of his day. Yet, John does not shrink from his duty, he is the Lord’s prophet and so he faithfully does what he is called to do. Like other prophets of our time such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, they also paid the ultimate price for speaking out.
But I think the purpose of sandwiching this story here in Mark’s Gospel is to remind us that John’s story is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ story. Jesus, like John would be totally innocent of the charges broke against him and would be executed by the ‘powers that be’ more out of political preservation and expedience, rather than anything else.
So what does this story tell us? It tells that words can be immensely powerful, but they must be used with great care. In the mouth of the prophet, they can change lives for the better, but in the mouths of others they can lead us to great sin, and tragic consequences, as we have seen in this story.
Yet, according to Mark such stories give us hope that God is still at work in peoples’ lives. And in the face of evil, tragedy and suffering, we can see the grace God at work! And it is to the cross where we look to see and experience this! Amen.
THE COLLECT (alternative)
God of our salvation,
help us to turn away from those habits which harm our bodies
and poison our minds
and to choose again your gift of life,
revealed to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.