No Promise of Protection – 7-11-24

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday’s gospel reading is here

Okay, let’s take a look at this gospel passage I’ve been avoiding all week, which tells the story of how and why John the Baptist was beheaded after many years in King Herod’s dungeon. It’s a grim story; there’s nothing obviously redemptive about it. Evil triumphs over good, as it so often seems to do in the world. Maybe that’s why neither Matthew nor Luke include it in their gospels, even as they absorb so much of what is in Mark’s narrative.

Mark strays into the story as he talks about how some thought Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead – and one person who thought that was King Herod. So Mark tells how Herod came to have John beheaded, though, “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.”

It was Herod’s wife who pressured him into arresting John. She had previously been married to Herod’s brother, and John had not hesitated to inform the Galilean king that this ran counter to the law of Moses. Because he spoke out, “Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him.” She saw her moment when Herod threw himself a birthday party with all the VIPs of Galilee. No doubt the food and wine flowed freely, and there was even entertainment: Herodias’ daughter danced for Herod. Her dance so pleased the drunken despot that he swore to give her whatever she wanted, up to half his kingdom, as Hebrew kings were wont to do (see the book of Esther). The girl asks her mother what to ask for and there it is:  “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 

Herod was “grieved,” we’re told, but his need to save face before his guests trumped his conscience, so the gruesome order was carried out. John’s head was presented on a platter to the girl, who dutifully gave it to her mother. A great prophet of God was dead at the hands of the vengeful and the flirtatious.

So why are people reading this, and on a Sunday in church? (We won’t be at my churches – we’re enjoying a series on Celtic Christianity…) Maybe a better question is: How can we benefit from this story? Can we find any blessing in it? It does remind us  that serving God comes with no guarantee of safety. We pray for protection from bodily harm, and we thank God when we avoid it, but in fact it is not among the promises we receive as followers of the Crucified One. Plenty of Christ followers the world over experience persecution, from economic and social deprivation to mortal danger.

To speak the truth in the face of persecution, to proclaim the Good News that Jesus is Lord, to take his teachings at face value and love your enemy – this is the call of every follower of Christ, always hoping that the worst we will face is rejection or a complacent disinterest. That is the worst most of us will face – so maybe we can be bolder about speaking the truth and proclaiming the Gospel, if only to honor those who paid a much higher price.

The only positive element I find in this story is at the end: When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. This reminds us that John was part of a holy community, with followers willing to stand by him in life, and claim him as their own in death. That community carried on his legacy and his life. May we do as much for the martyrs of our time, in the name of Christ.

© Kate Heichler, 2024. To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereHere are the bible readings for next Sunday. Water Daily is also a podcast – subscribe to it here on Apple, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *