The following is a reflection on Mark 6:14-29, the Gospel lesson appointed for proper 10B, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.
On its face, this is a strange lesson. Jesus is mentioned, but never says a word. People are coming up with all kinds of theories for how Jesus is able to do the things he does, and Herod kills John for the oddest of reasons.
The question that rises to the top for me 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? Mark’s Gospel is so short and to the point, but we get intricate details of Herod’s marital situation and birthday party?
Again, I read Mark as a short telling of the Gospel of Jesus written for a people scared and persecuted. Jerusalem had either 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.
There is always the 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. 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 be 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.
But, those fates aren’t what define us. For even though we suffer and are cut down, we are still God’s.
I’m in southern West Virginia right now, working with some incredible youth, and working among America’s rural poor. They have been victims of numerous calamities for centuries; some economic, some social, and some meteorological. 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. And God is here. God has been here, and I’d venture to say that God will be here for a very long 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.
Even when the best of us are served on silver platters.