Today’s reading from the gospel according to Mark 6:14-29 is rare because Jesus isn’t in it. He doesn’t heal. He doesn’t teach. Jesus says nothing. But Jesus is the center of the story because King Herod is disturbed by what Jesus’ disciples are saying. In last week’s text, we saw Jesus send his disciples away. They were told to preach, teach, and heal. They took nothing with them – no bread, no bag, and no money. Instead, all they had were the words and power Jesus gave them. The text says they went out and “proclaimed that all should repent” (Mark 6:12). King Herod heard what Jesus’ disciples were doing. And King Herod was scared.
The story of John the Baptist’s beheading is a little gruesome. Herod is impulsive, calculating, and trapped in a system where he isn’t as politically powerful as he wanted to be. He is the king of Galilee but he’s not on top. Rome is still in charge. But that doesn’t mean that Herod didn’t have opportunities to gain more power. So in an attempt to strengthen his political position, Herod married his brother’s wife. John the Baptist heard about this political move and he won’t have it. John tells Herod that his marriage is unjust. This makes Herod (and his wife) upset. So John the Baptist is sent to prison and, eventually, killed. The text implies that Herod is regularly manipulated by Herodias, his wife. But we shouldn’t act as if this gets Herod off the hook for his actions. Herod made the choice marry Herodias and he is the one who made the decision to kill John the Baptist. Herod is an active participant in John’s beheading (he even says “John, whom I beheaded…”). Herod, like the others around him, will do everything he can to fulfill his impulsive behavior, including his desire for more power. He is participating in a system that is violent, aggressive, and harmful. And it’s this system that John, Jesus, and Jesus’ disciples speak out against.
One of the reasons why they speak out against this system because of what this hunger for power does to the people. We see the outcome not only in what happened to John the Baptist. We also see the evil this can cause in the words Herodias’ daughter uses. After King Herod is seduced by Herodias’ daughter, he makes an impulsive (and destructive) promise. The daughter takes this promise to her mother. Her mom wants the head of John the Baptist so that’s what her daughter asked for. But instead of only asking for the head, the daughter asked for it to be served on a platter. This system of power devours the people who stand up to it and corrupts the people who are living within it. The banquet of the rich and powerful requires the taking of a life. But next week we’ll discover what Jesus’ banquet of love, grace, and Godly power does instead.
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 8th Sunday after Pentecost, 7/15/2018.