Sermon, Pentecost 7B
Sunday July 12th 2015, St Petri
14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying,[a] “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”
15 Others said, “He is Elijah.”
And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”
16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”
17 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. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled[b]; yet he liked to listen to him.
21 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. 22 When the daughter of[c] 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.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”
24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”
“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.
25 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.”
26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
We come across a dark and sordid affair this morning. Mark tells us of the kind of thing we are all to used to hearing about these days; deception, political power wrongly used, paranoid authority figures, sexual promiscuity, drunkenness, envy leading to murder and the beheading of innocent people…. – who said the Bible is make believe!
After Jesus had initiated a new strategy of sending out the Twelve in mission with his own authority, the news of this reached the royal ears of Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas, like his brothers (Heron Phillip and Herod Agrippa), and his Father before him, Herod the Great, was a power hungry tyrant who was more than a just a little paranoid. Anyone or thing that might threaten his grip on control of his little world is a serious threat that must be dealt with. Lust for power and control does this to any person at any level.
All Herod’s worst fears were realised when he hears of Jesus, and not only Jesus, but twelve other “Jesus’s” displaying Divine power. This is a threat of all threats!
Some people were saying that this Jesus must be very special. He must be a very great prophet. He might even be Elijah, the Prophet who was the one who would be a forerunner to the THE Prophet – the Saviour – the Messiah who would change everything.
“Oh no!! You can hear the paranoid Herod say to his courtiers! “I thought I got rid of John, that fiery and confronting man who unsettled me to the core on more than one occasion”. Herod wonders if John the Baptist has come back from the dead to get him!
John had really stirred up Herod. John simply did not play the power game and keep things all PC! He called “a spade a spade”. In scenes worse than the family goings on in Neighbours or Downton Abbey, this Herod Antipas had illegally married his brother, Herod Philipp’s wife, Herodias.
Surprisingly we hear that Herod was fascinated by John. Mark tells us that Herod “liked to listen to John” and thought “he was a righteous and holy man of God”.
John must have been like one of those people who you may not like very much because they challenge everything about you, and yet you know they are on to something important. So you find that you listen to them because you know it is good for you to be challenged by them.
We hear that Herod imprisoned John to protect him from his particularly troubled wife, Herodias. This is ‘protective custody’. One can imagine the great royal man sitting outside the prison cell chatting to his unjustly imprisoned prisoner and sensing a holy, right and straight man – so unlike himself – maybe even wondering how he could ever be right with God.
Kings throw great banquets and all the important people come. They are a public show of one’s power and the place of deals and alliances, as well as deception.
Herodias seems to have been very upset and wounded by this Prophet telling her she cannot just do what she wants; that she is not above the law – especially God’s law. Herodias, seems to be in the wings orchestrating this whole fatal affair.
She sends out her own daughter, Salome, to dance well for all the important people of Galilee. Salome’s paranoid and drunk father and his friends like her dancing very much. Herod makes his fatal mistake – fatal for John anyway.
In a moment of power play and too much wine, he gives the outstanding dancer a wish – any wish. Whatever she asks for he must give, otherwise his power will be weakened and that is never good for keeping control over others.
Salome, the great dancer plays her dutiful part and asks for the head of John on a platter. Her mother has finally got her man with all of his embarrassing truth-telling words. Herod is cornered. John’s fate is sealed. Herod is secretly heart-broken and very, very scared – after all, John was a righteous man of God.
We can see now why Herod is so worried when he hears about this Rabbi Jesus and his twelve “sent ones” making John-like noises in greater ways than John ever did!
The locals were right in a sense. John the Baptist had been resurrected! John had indeed ushered in a new age of God’s mighty power and amazing grace for those who would receive it. The deaf heard, the lame walked, the dumb talked and the demons cried out in fear for the Kingdom of God was near. A new king was present. All other little kings must bow to this one great King of love.
And I guess that is our perennial problem. The Word tells us of our “Herodian problem” over and over again, from the first bight of the apple to the laugh of Sarah and her husband Abraham, to the rogue, Jacob, who spent his whole life struggling against God, to the people who would take his new name, “Israel” (which means ‘one who struggles with God”), who would generation after generation be a rebellious and stubborn people who do the same (Ezekiel 2:3-5).
We can hear the truth of God in the Word of Jesus and refuse to repent in the face of God’s explicit and personally call to do just that so we might receive new life and hope.
Like Herod we all too often want to manufacture our own life and hope. Truth becomes what “I believe to be true for me”. Instead of simply receiving and trusting the Word of Jesus for my life today, I spend a fair bit of time hearing and trusting alternate “words” that help me avoid real repentance. The old Adam in me says, “I am the king”. “This is my kingdom”. ”This is my life”.
In this place we are doomed like Herod. We have lost all face before the only “Face” that really counts – the face of Jesus, the Saviour of the world and Lord of all.
But Jesus, the one “greater than John,” calls out to you and me, “The time has come” “The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15).
This Jesus is the Good News to whom all little gods and god chasing hearts can turn with confidence in his gracious acceptance. His open-hearted kindness and affection for the unjust, the paranoid, the power hungry, the lonely, the unwell, the oppressed, enables repentance that leads to life. His gracious acceptance gets rid of the need to hang on to power and control others, and brings a freedom to serve others in love.
Friends, the call comes to you personally now – Repent and believe the Good News of this divine man.
Life in his acceptance and love is a full life. Regular and direct sorrow and acknowledgement of our will to be a little god to ourselves, matched with a trust in this Good Shepherd’s arms of grace that love to daily embrace us and make us more like him in every way every day.
And the mission continues too. We are messengers out on assignment from the Lord to roll back Herodianism wherever we encounter it – in ourselves and others. Just like “Jesus’ Twelve” who “went out and proclaimed that people should repent” (Mark 6:12) or “turn to” Jesus, so do we in many and various words and ways.
As we do this we become a living part of this great mystery of which St Paul speaks in Ephesians. In Christ we have received the forgiveness of his blood on the cross in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he has lavished on us and in this God has made known to us the mystery of his will, which is to bring all things in heaven and earth under one head, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1).
We lift up our heads and let this King and his mystery now made known through us come and shape our lives to the praise of his glorious grace. Amen!
Read the text again noting the various characters in this rather dark account that Mark remembers….Herod, Herodias, John the Baptist, Salome, the executioner/soldier, those at the birthday party in one of Herod’s fortresses….. Note their actions and motivations as described by Mark.
The ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ are wrath, greed, sloth, pride, envy, lust and gluttony. Can you identify some or all of them in this account?
While travelling in Israel, I was privileged to see a few of Herod the great’s fortresses around the country. Herod the great was a paranoid tyrant. He had several large and quite opulent fortresses dotted around Israel. These were places to which he could escape at a moment’s notice if things got a bit too hot for him or his family! Herod the Great’s three sons, Herod Antipas (the one in this account), Herod Agrippa and Herod Phillip took after their father.
The one thing that Herod the Great did that lasted long after his death and for which even the Jewish people were grateful, was the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple. On the site of the Solomon’s original temple, Herod the Great built the magnificent new temple. It too 60+ years to complete and was completely smashed to the ground a few years after its completion! Jesus predicted this would happen (Mark 14:58). The only remaining part of this huge structure is part of the Western wall of the temple. That is now named the ‘Wailing Wall’ and is the holiest site on the world for Jewish people.
Herod hears of Jesus’ fame. He hears about the miracles and the authoritative preaching and then the expanding ministry with the sending of the Disciples 2 by 2 (just before our text). Like any tyrant who rules by fear and sheer human ego, he is unsettled.
Herod has another problem though – his ‘family’! He has flaunted the Jewish law (Torah) by taking his own brother’s wife for his own! John the Baptist is not one for mincing words of being ‘me nice guy’. John calls it like it is and it seems that the person who is most upset about this truth telling is not Herod, but his ‘wife’, Herodias. She seems to be the one plotting this whole sordid affair. Read through the text and view it from this point of view – as Herodias making all this happen….
What about Herodias’ daughter, Salome? Do you think she is in cahoots with her mum or just an innocent pawn in all of this? Mark does not seem to give us a clear understanding of this.
Did you notice how Herod is actually protecting john because he ‘liked to listen to John? It seems that John unsettled Herod in a good way. Herod may have had some glimmer of human heart under all this ego and fear after all. Herod seems to be protecting John from his own wife! This is more like protective custody than punishment.
I suggested that the world is a brutal place. It was then and is still now. Beheading of innocent people has taken on a new meaning lately as a result of the evil actions of the death cult, IS. Herod’s ‘family’ seemed to be lost in the same kind of death. Fear rules the house. Abuse, violence, manipulation and the seven deadly sins are the order of most days.
I suggested that we are very capable of being a lot like Herod than we might admit. Sure, we may not marry our own brother’s wife or have an innocent man executed because of a stupid bet brought on by too much pride, wine and sexual temptation. But there are other ways to “kill” others – with words and silence and unseen manipulation….. There are other ways to trust ourselves rather than the Lord and look after number one rather than humble serve others in Jesus’ love. Reflect together on how you see this playing out in our own time and in our own lives…..
John was the forerunner to Jesus. His job was to get the world ready. He did. He did this by his preaching, his baptising and then finally his own life. He is very much in the tradition of the old Testament prophets who unsettled kings and were hardly ever understood or liked in their own lifetime. John reminds of another Prophet of God who confronted a tyrant ruler who was rued y his manipulative wife (See 1 kings 18-21). John is the greatest of them all and yet nowhere near the import of the One he announces (Matthew 11:11, John 5:35).
What does this account tell you about telling the truth and what this sometimes costs a Christian? Share about a time you dis speak a word of truth that was not liked very much by the person you spoke it to………
John did his job and so did Jesus. Jesus calls his church to speak the truth in season and out of season in all love, not to win but to bring his truth into the darkness and evil we experience.
Lord, let the light of your undeserved love and kindness expel our darkness and make us salt and light in a troubled world. Amen.