The Reality of Telling the Truth
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Mark 6: 14 – 19. Focus on the reason for beheading John the Baptist. Be sure to check out Rasaan Bourke & Jonathan Ponder as they sing – I Need You Now.
The life of Herod Antipas sounds like an episode of Jerry Springer. Initially married to the daughter of a king, Herod visited his half-brother, Herod Philip I, and fell in love with Herod Philip’s wife, Herodias. Herodias is the granddaughter of Herod the Great, who is the father of Herod Antipas. In other words, Herodias is Herod’s niece.
Mind you, Herod Antipas was a Jew. And being married to your niece, is, according to the law, incest and therefore a sin. And let’s not even go to the part about being married to your brother’s wife when your brother is still alive.
To add to the debauchery, Herod threw himself a birthday party, possibly because he couldn’t find anyone else to throw one for him and one of his guests was Herodias’ daughter Salome, who was both Herod’s step-daughter and his niece and as it just so happened was also a wiz at dancing. And we’re not talking about clogging here. Chances are that Salome would have been quite comfortable at the Soprano’s Bada Bing Bada Boom strip club on route 17.
After watching his stepdaughter/niece dance a presumably titillated Herod makes an oath, to give Salome whatever she desires, up to half of his kingdom.
Since she already had everything a girl could want and was apparently not eager for all the headaches that taking over half the kingdom would undoubtedly involve, she went out and asked her mother, Herodias, to advise her on what she ought to ask for, thus making Salome’s mother – Herodias her pimp.
And Herodias knew exactly what she wanted – “The head of John,” she snapped, so that’s what Salome went back and told Herod, adding only that she would prefer to have it served on a platter. No sooner was it brought to her than she got rid of it like a hot potato by handing it over to her mother. It’s not hard to see why.
John was a truth teller! He was a whistle blower! Nobody in power likes these types and John was a stickler for legalities like not sleeping with your brother’s wife and he wasn’t shy about letting Herod know it, which lands him in Herod’s jail and in a heap of trouble with Herod’s new wife, who urged her husband to make short work of him. Herod said he’d be only too pleased to oblige her, but unfortunately John was a man with a strong following, and it might lead to political unrest. Not the best of political decisions you understand!
But after a long night of drinking and debauchery what’s a John to a pimp? It didn’t take Herodias ten seconds to tell her daughter what she wanted. “The head of John,”
I like how Frederick Buechner puts it: “Salome disappears from history at that point, and you can only hope that she took the platter with her to remind her that she should be careful where she danced that particular dance in the future, and that she should never ask her mother’s advice again about anything, and that even when you cut a saint’s head off, that doesn’t mean you’ve heard the last of him by a long shot.”
But on the face of it this is a very strange Bible lesson. For example Jesus is mentioned but never says a word. People are speculating all over the place on how Jesus is able to do the things he does, some say it’s from God others say its from a demon.
The question that comes to mind is: Why does Mark tell this story?
I mean, Mark doesn’t say anything about Jesus’ birth or give a resurrection account…but we get an extended section on Herod and John? Of all the gospel’s Mark’s is the shortest and most succinct and yet we get more details of Herod’s marital situation and birthday party than either Matthew or Luke mention.
Again, context helps us. Mark’s audience is made up of a bunch of people who are scared and persecuted. Jerusalem had just fallen or was about to, and Mark’s people were frightened beyond words. People were saying all kinds of things about Christians – things that were blatantly untrue – and horrific things were going on to people they knew and loved.
Some of them had been used as torches for Nero’s backyard barbeques in Rome. Other’s given over to wild beasts in the arena, which wasn’t even the worst of things – The worst of things was being betrayed by your own family into these horrible situations!
And there is always this danger in religious circles to think that if you’re on God’s team then everything will be great. You’ll be healthy, wealthy, and wise. God will heal every disease and conquer every foe.
Well…not if you’re John the Baptist – the truth teller. If you’re John you’ll be the victim of an immature girl and an impotent puppet ruler, and your head will be served on a platter.
This story is a bit of a downer. But, more than that, it’s a shot of sobering reality.
Even the very best of us can become victim to the very worst, and sometimes even to the very worst in other people. And that’s a message those in the first century, and us in the twenty-first century can relate to all too well.
And by acknowledging this reality Mark’s Jesus also tells us that those fates are not what define us. For even though we suffer and are cut down, we are still God’s.
I used to take folks from Flemington to the Mission of the Eastward, or maybe I should say they used to take me. In either case Maine is the second poorest state in the Union. It only ranks ahead of Mississippi. Most of Maine, with the exception of the Gold Coast from Kennebunkport up to Acadia, is made up of America’s rural poor.
There building code is: “If you build it you can live in it.” They have been victims of numerous calamities for centuries; some economic and some social. If “perfect” lives are the outward mark of blessedness, then this is a God-forsaken place.
But, it isn’t. These are amazing people – faithful people experience God here and know God here and I would venture to say God will be there for them for the rest of time.
This is important: what sets us as people of faith apart, isn’t our “perfect” lives, but the presence of God with us on the best of days and the worst of days. When we tell the truth and when we don’t. Even when the best of us are served up on silver platters. Amen