We come across a dark and sordid affair this morning. Mark speaks of the kind of thing we hear a lot 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 their father, Herod the Great) was a power hungry politician 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 also under threat from a king wife – Jezebel), and 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. 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.
But we hear that Herod was also in a way, 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. You find that you listen to them because you know it is somehow 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 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, Herod, and his friends like her dancing very much.
A fatal attraction leads to a fatal mistake…. Herod gives the outstanding dancer a wish – any wish – in public view. Whatever she asks for he must give.
Salome, after whispering in her brooding mother’s ears, plays her dutiful part and asks for the head of John on a platter. Herodias has finally got her man.
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 there lies the problem. We are all tinged with the Herod and Herodias problem. From the first bight of the apple to the laugh of a disbelieving Sarah, 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”), we are generation after generation a rebellious and stubborn people (Ezekiel 2:3-5).
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”. “My life is my Kingdom”.
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,
Friends, the call comes to you personally now – Repent and believe the Good News of this divine man.
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 over and control of others, and brings a freedom to serve others in love, each of us is deeply loved by him.
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 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.
We are a living part of this great mystery of which St Paul speaks in Ephesians.
John lost his head. Jesus’ head bled. His face now shines like the sun.
We lift up our heads and let this King and his calling shape our lives to the praise of his glorious grace. Amen!