“Don’t Lose Your Head” Friday Meditation. 06/19/2020. Alan Neale.
Trinity Church, Newport, RI
Mark 6 – 14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “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; 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 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.
On first glance at this passage I admit… I was tempted to omit the story and move on to v.30, partly because of its length but more because of its content. How relevant did I consider this to be in our daily lives, living under the wretched cloud of COVID-19.
And yet there it is in Scripture and I truly believe “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the person of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16)… so here goes!
The story of John’s boldness and courage as he speaks truth to power is recounted alongside the horrid extremes of human nature. We see in Herod the tenacity of guilt, the fickleness of non-commitment, the stubbornness of pride and the domination of lust. And in the vengeful Herodias we observe the destructive nature of resentment and grudge.
But before we move onto these lovable characters, just a word or two about the opening verses 14 and 15. As the people encounter Jesus, so they attempt to categorize, to label, pigeon-hole his person, his message and his ministry. Perhaps too often when we encounter God our first response is not to worship and surrender but rather to insist that we understand fully and, by so doing, we attempt vainly to control the engagement. We worship and surrender in order that we might understand, not vice versa!
Herod’s tenacity of guilt. Herod, in verse 16, joins with the crowds in trying to pigeon-hole Jesus. His contribution to the process was to suggest that John Baptist had been resurrected. And why John Baptist… because Herod had the prophet beheaded and the guilt and remorse that he felt prompted him to immediately, and doubtless often, think of John. Guilt does this to a soul… it spreads its roots throughout our being increasingly affecting our thoughts, words and very disposition. As a priest it is my joyful honor to pronounce absolution and this always describes God’s work as not only forgiving our sin but also setting us free from guilt’s power. Is this your experience?
Next, Herod’s fickleness caused by lack of commitment. In verse 20 Mark tells us that Herod feared John, protected John (the word suggests Herod kept him close in person and in mind), and respected John as holy and righteous. And then, isn’t this strange, Herod was perplexed (literally “at a loss for words”) when he listened to John but nevertheless he listen “sweetly, gladly, with pleasure and pleasantly”. So why the horrible, tragic and sudden change in Herod? I think largely because he never moved from considering the message to committing to the message, and this lack of transition will always create fickleness of spirit and lack of will. Please be always open to transformation as you hear and read God’s word.
Time moves on and so must I. Like the story of Jephthah in Judges 11, Herod makes a vow in the heat of the moment (dominated by lust and self-desire John wasn’t the only one to lose his head!) that he fulfils… though with regret. His pride (before the people) makes him stubborn and unable to admit wrong and begin again. Friend, you and I really cannot afford to live without often admitting a wrong (put aside what has been done to you…), being ready to repent and open to transformation. It’s a little childlike but significant nevertheless that “I” is in the center of pride.
Finally, v.29, I hope we see a little repentance in Herod as he permits John’s friends to take his body and prepare him for burial. I wonder whether Herod told Herodias of this kindness?