Text: Mark 6:14-29
Date: Pentecost VIII (Proper 10b) + 7/15/18
So far in Mark’s Gospel we have been told of the initial faith in Jesus on the part of some and the increasing rejection of Jesus by many, first by the officials of the temple, then by the crowds—they laughed at Him in derision when confronted by His power to raise a dead child—then by even His hometown former friends and relatives. This rejection will grow to be the main trajectory of His earthly ministry leading to His redemptive goal of being rejected to death on a cross. We even hear that His closest followers will experience the same thing.
It was of this extension of Jesus’ preaching and healing through His apostles that “King Herod” heard. He stands next in line to demonstrate the unbelief and rejection Jesus will endure.
This is a strange even macabre story going on in Herod’s mind. Like a Zombie Apocalypse Herod imagined that Jesus was not Jesus but actually John the Baptist come back from the dead to torment him or somehow punish him for his unjust murder and execution of John. It is a strange story in that, while telling us of Herod’s fear St. Mark provides a “flashback” to tell of the gruesome murder of John for which Herod thought he was receiving payback.
“King Herod heard of it.” Actually this was not a king but Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Perea who accepted for himself the title “King.” At any rate the point is that this is the Herod who had executed John the Baptist. It is therefore important for Mark to tell us of the dramatic injustice that lay behind John’s execution to explain Herod’s current fear and even mistaken notion of the Baptist’s supposed coming back from the dead.
In the past, Mark tells us, John the Baptist exposed this Herod’s great sin of marrying his brother Philip’s wife Herodias though Philip was still alive. Herodias despised John always wishing he would be put to death. John’s preaching was effective in that at least Herod feared John as a righteous and holy man, so he kept him safe in prison and even continued to hear his preaching.
But now the flashback recalling what led to Herod’s order to execute John. Was Herod overcome by drink or by erotic desire when, at his birthday party, he was (let’s just call it) greatly impressed with the dancing of Herodias’s daughter. Call it infatuation Herod should have known better than to make such an over-generous expression to her as “up to half of my kingdom.”
Now follows the gruesome part. Both the girl and her mother Herodias held John the Baptist in great contempt. And so, not just the beheading of the Baptist was requested but the even more macabre offering of it on a platter was ordered. You see the recent spate of similar beheadings in the evil world of radical Muslims, Boko Haram, or the terror group al-Shabaab is nothing new. Just the thought of it forces one to consider the depths of evil sin can plunge one. But then, of course, are all the deaths and destruction of the various tyrants and tyrannies of world history. But don’t let it stop there until you also remember and face up to the well over 54 million abortions of the generations of the past 45 years in the United States. How can any fantasy of a Zombie Apocalypse be any more shocking than our actual history?
Herod was obsessed with his fantasy of guilt that John the Baptist had returned from the dead. But who was that who had shown up with miraculous powers. No, not Elijah. Neither a prophet like one the prophets of old. Herod was convinced it was John, “whom I beheaded, has been raised.” But no. Who was that that had shown up on the scene but Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus, John’s cousin, the greater one for whom John came to prepare the way. It was Jesus who was being feared, Jesus who would be rejected, persecuted and killed.
And who are they who suffer the atrocities of our world since then? Recall Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 25. “I was hungry and you gave me no food, thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me…. As you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Mt. 25:41-45). Who are all the innocent martyrs of the centuries? Jesus says, in a mysterious way as He once said to a man named Saul, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).
You know, fearful, superstitious Herod was partially right about one thing. People do come back from the dead. Not as Zombies, however. But as the redeemed of the Lord, restored to new eternal life in the resurrection. Jesus came back from the dead, not to condemn the world however, “but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17), saved from everlasting condemnation and eternal death. Therefore we live not in fear but in faith, faith in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come through the forgiveness of our sins all for the sake and at the price of the innocent, bitter, suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, and His mighty resurrection from the dead. Living by faith in Him we need have no fear.