A Man of His Word

Text: Mark 6:14-29
Date: Pentecost VII + Proper 10B + 7/12/15

Did you notice what’s missing in today’s Gospel? We are called every Sunday to worship and to proclaim the name of Jesus, yet His name doesn’t even appear once here. Oh, it is supplied in your printed version but our Lord is there actually only referred to with the pronoun “his” in the original. Why all of a sudden does St. Mark go on and on here about Herod Antipas tetrarch (not really “king”) of Galilee and Perea (4 bc-ad 39), and all of the confusing actors and actresses of Herod’s family, Herodias, his brother Philipp (spelled with one “l” and to “p”s at the end!), and the daughter of Herodias by another marriage? Very confusing; and how all of this gives us the most detailed information regarding the martyrdom of John the Baptist than we get from any of the other Gospels. So what are we to make of all this that it may allow us to preach about Jesus?

Remember how Mark told us at one and the same time of the raising of Jairus’ daughter with the account of the healing of the anonymous woman in the crowd sandwiched in the middle of the Jairus story? The key to understanding today’s strange Gospel is the same as it is sandwiched between Jesus’ sending out of His disciples to heal and to preach repentance and their return which we will hear about next Sunday.

Remember how Jesus told his disciples that they will experience what He experienced. Some people will receive their preaching and message but some people will reject it. The preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be heard and accepted by some. But when it is rejected, “when the people stop listening,” they are just to move on, to “shake the dust from their sandals as a testimony against them” that they have rejected the very divine Word that could have (and still can) save them.

The Gospel of Mark is all about the proclamation of the kingdom, the reign and rule of God in our world through the faith that is in Christ Jesus the Lord. Once again we have a contemporary demonstration of this Gospel text, of how severe is the rejection of that faith and that reign in our world today. It includes the madness, confusion and chaos of out-of-control political correctness, for instance the offense taken at the Confederate flag of all things, or at the refusal of Christian bakers to bake wedding cakes for same-sex weddings, but worse, government authorities then denying them their first amendment rights of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly and of expressing grievance over the government. Today’s Gospel stands in contrast to the kingdom or reign and rule of God and describes in the most horrendous and even macabre of details the kingdom of this world and the reign and rule of this world’s evil tyrants.

Oh, as we said it starts with Jesus, Herod having heard of his name. And the question for Herod is the same as for all of us, just Who is this Jesus? Not surprisingly Herod’s superstitions took over as he decided that Jesus really is John the Baptist come back from the dead to haunt him or punish him. Herod felt guilty about executing John the Baptist. And we are given all the sordid details of how that came about.

John had faithfully called Herod to repentance over (are you ready for this?) over Herod’s redefinition of marriage! “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” But it was actually Herodias herself who held the grudge against the Baptist. (Don’t you just love how they loved to play with the name or title “Herod”? It’s kind of like George Forman today who named each of his boys “George,” from George Jr. to George’s III-VI besides Georgetta and her six sisters!).

How much of the madness of our day is the result of superstition, rejection of the truth, sin or just plain ignorance?

Then we read the “flashback” of Herod, St. Mark recalling in disgusting detail how he was forced into having John the Baptist beheaded because of a lustful promise made to the young female dancer who was brought in to entertain the guys. So we even have the murderous and evil Isis or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria with all of their beheadings and other actually Satanic and sadistic persecutions of Christians and other so-called infidels. The most sadistic person in our reading is not Herodias. She only requested the beheading. It was the daughter that added that his head be delivered to her on a platter.

Now with all this we still need to ask “how do we proclaim Jesus today?” Some have noticed certain helpful parallels between the story of John the Baptist’s martyrdom and our Lord’s sacrificial suffering and death for us and for our salvation. Both John and Jesus came to die at a particular time when the details leading to their death were coming together. Both John and Jesus suffered being arrested and bound. Both had words of judgment and truth that angered the leaders, yet both were completely innocent of any evil activity. As Herod had put John in prison actually, Mark tells us, “to keep him safe,” so Pontius Pilate tried to release Jesus offering to hand over Barabbas instead. But both Herod and Pilate were made to yield to pressure to have their prisoner murdered. The last word is that the disciples of John “came and took the body and laid it in a tomb” just like the disciples (Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea) took Jesus’ body and laid it in a tomb. The greatest difference of their deaths, of course, was that John’s death was a testimony of saving faith. Jesus’ death brought salvation, deliverance from sin and true righteousness to all who believe in Him.

As Jesus warned his disciples that many will reject their preaching, Mark here warns that many will also suffer even martyrdom for the sake of Jesus. How did Jesus say it earlier? St. Matthew tells us this. “Blessed,” “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5:10-12). And in Luke 21, “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:16-19). We have been warned. How far the current persecution, marginalization and rejection of us Christians and the truth will go we do not know. We only know that God’s call to repentance and faith in Jesus is, always has been and always will be the truth.

So, in the end, this is all about “him.” Who? Jesus!