A Terrible Text
In tomorrow's Gospel reading Mark's Gospel tells us of how King Herod came to behead John the Baptist. Joanna Adams has written on this for The Christian Century, saying in part:
Though Jesus is never mentioned, the key to understanding why this sorry saga shows up where it does in Mark’s Gospel is its relation both to the growing fame of Jesus and the success of his disciples. On their very first missionary journey, the disciples had "cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them" (Mark 6:13). Just as in the opening verses of Mark the beginning of Jesus’ ministry is linked to the work of John the Baptist, so here, John’s death foreshadows Jesus’ death. Just as John’s willingness to speak the truth to power leads to his being taken prisoner and suffering a terrible death, so it will be with Jesus. Herod will become Pilate. The means of execution will be a cross rather than a sword, but the end will be the same. And so it will be for many of the early followers of Jesus, readers of Mark, who will be imprisoned and die for the sake of the gospel.The full text of her reflection is online here: A Terrible Text.
Those who follow Jesus in any age must never become carried away with the naïve notion that faithfulness to God will ever be easy. The road is rocky. Resistance is real, as is the fecklessness of many who are entrusted with political power and who are threatened by any authority other than their own. It is not that they are all bad or all good. It is that when things get tight, expediency and people-pleasing usually carry the day
And, of course, there is the capacity for evil that can flourish in any human heart, regardless of outward beauty or grace. There is also the ferocity of wounded pride and the wish for revenge. These are too real.
Over the desk in my study is a small framed photograph taken in the early 1930s. My grandmother Anna, a preacher’s wife who died before I was born, sits in a wicker rocker, a shawl around her ample shoulders and a Bible open in her hands on her lap. Whatever is the opposite of Herodias and Salome was my grandmother. I wonder what she thought about the beheading of John the Baptist. I am sure she knew the story. And I think she also knew that it would take more than a decapitation to stop the truth of God, more than a crucifixion to stop the Son of God, more than persecution to stop the mission of God.
All the important guests at Herod’s birthday party would never know what my grandmother knew—that after Herod was sealed in his grave, you and I would be thinking about John the Baptist and rejoicing that gospel power was still on the prowl.
Labels: Gospel reading