Sermon for Proper 10, Year B, July 11, 2021

Rev. Katherine Wren+

July 9th, 2021

Proper 10, Year B

St. Paul’s Batesville

Mark 6:14-29

Oh God, in whose service is perfect freedom, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Please be seated.

  • What a story we have to ponder over today.
  • It feels a little bit like the television show, Lost- where you don’t know if the episode you’re watching is in the part, the present or the future.
  • Reading the Gospel according to Mark can sometimes leave us feeling a little “lost” in the timeline too.
  • As tempted as I was to leave that platter alone today, I think there is something we as the church can get out of this story provided, we don’t immediately turn away from it.
  • Now in today’s section of our gospel reading, it can be a little hard to figure out what exactly is going on.
  • Suddenly, we have traveled back in time to what was happening at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. We have also completely changed out cast of characters. Jesus is mentioned nowhere in today’s gospel reading.
  • Instead, our main character today is Herod Antipas, He is the son of Herod who was King at the time Jesus was born.
  • Today we get a flashback. People in the present narrative are discussing Jesus, trying to decide just who he is and Herod Antipas suggests that Jesus might just be John the Baptist, raised from the dead.
  • Cue the flashback to when John was executed.
  • Herod Antipas had married his brother’s wife, Herodias. Herodias seemed to be very pleased with the increase in her station.
  • But not everyone was pleased. John the Baptist criticized the marriage calling Herod out on his hypocrisy.
  • Herodias did not enjoy this criticism and scripture tells us that Herod had John put in prison.
  • Interestingly enough, Herod visited with John from time to time in prison and found that although he didn’t always like it, John spoke the truth and he was captivated by it.
  • But for Herodias, John’s imprisonment was not enough. She finds the perfect moment for her revenge against John at her husband’s birthday banquet.
  • Herod’s young daughter dances for her father and his guests and everyone is pleased. Herod Antipas promises her anything she wants because she’s done so well.
  • The poor girl had no idea what to ask for so she ran to her mother for advice.
  • I wonder if the girl was appalled or shocked when her mother told her to ask for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. We don’t know, was she old enough to even understand that her mother was using her to murder a man who was not condemned under the law?
  • With Herodias’s meddling Herod was faced with two shameful choices: the publicly shameful choice of going back on his promise to his daughter or the more privately shameful choice of killing someone who did not deserve with without any justice.
  • Herod did not want to have John killed, he did it though. He ordered the captain of the guard to chop off John’s head and bring it to the girl.
  • And although usually no one’s life hangs in the balance, we too often choose the option of saving face in public while doing something we know is wrong. We choose the politics that benefit our own stations.
  • This isn’t necessarily the “good news” we want to hear.
  • Mark is a hard Gospel. Mark does not start with cute stories of Jesus in the manger. Instead, we begin with a Jesus who from the very beginning is calling his disciples to work and casting out demons. In the very beginning Jesus attacks those institutions that oppress and defile the creatures of God.
  • John went before Jesus in this mission, criticizing the oppressors and religious hypocrites
  • This week, Mark makes it very clear that part of the system of oppressions that Jesus encountered also come from the state.
  • Late in Mark, charter 8, Jesus will warn us against “the bread of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (8:15).
  • Herod was raised as a Jew but ever trying to curry favor with the Roman Empire.
  • One interesting aspect of his that we can’t pursue today is that it was Herod who rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem but it was with roman money and support.
  • Thus, for many religious Jews, the Temple represented something profoundly corrupt by the state.
  • This is part of what makes Jesus’ critique of the Temple so powerful and so uncomfortable.
  • Empire and religion were just as intertwined in the first century as they all too after are for us today.
  • We see the compromised character of Herod Antipas in John the Baptist’s critique. John’s objection to Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife would also have been understood by those who heard him to be a challenge to the very authority of Herod’s rule.
  • Here John challenges the legitimacy of how Herod obtained his power. At the same time John also challenges Herod’s claim to be a pious Jew.
  • Herod’s marriage demonstrates that Herod conforms “to the requirements of Torah only when it {is} politically convenient or expedient.”
  • At the core of John’s challenge is whether the political head of state is lawfully sovereign and whether his use of religion is merely a mask.
  • Perhaps we can think of situations where first century Palestinian politics and politicians mirror our own today, but where is the good news in this?
  • First is that some scholars believe that Mark has two parts to it. The first and the second part mirror each other.
  • The first part ends with today’s story about the death of John. In this way it mirrors the death of Jesus.
  • There was a political trial of sorts (a trial that violates even the state’s own understanding of justice, just as it does with Jesus), an execution and a burial by disciples.
  • Just as Jesus precedes his death with a banquet, so too does Herod precede John’s death with a banquet.
  • This gives us an important clue in understanding how God’s kingdom is to be different from earthly kingdoms.
  • The leaven of Herod is a rule by force. He flaunts his power by recklessly abandoning what he knows is right to save face for his drunken oath.
  • Truth and justice and mercy have no place here. Herod’s leaven that feeds the kingdom is that might equals right, and absolute might means death for the one proclaiming God’s messages.
  • Notice how different this is compared to the marching orders Jesus gave his disciples last week.
  • The disciples go out in pairs, not in force but in open hospitality to the reception of strangers. They proclaim their message but if it isn’t received, they do not retaliate. They attempt to find some other place where their message might take root.
  • The good news is that there is an alternative to Herod’s Kingdom. This week, to get the good news, you are going to have to keep reading.
  • If you keep reading you get to see Jesus feed over 5 thousand people with only 5 loaves and two fish. You get a completely different kind of banquet. A completely different kind of power.
  • At Herod’s banquet you get envy, greed and a competition for power.
  • At Jesus’s banquet you get love, compassion and generosity. Everyone is fed for free. The innocent are not taken advantage of for the desires of someone else.
  • The good news is that in God there is not a spirit of division, not a spirit of death, but a boundless belief, a boundless faith, that redemption- new life, the mystical healing of old wounds- is always possible.
  • The good news is that Jesus approached his ministry not as a matter of force and defensiveness but rather in openness and charity.
  • We affirm this in our baptismal covenant. Our fundamental posture is that we strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being.
  • There is no escaping that the gospel and the world we live in are political- not partisan- but definitely political, intertwined with the faith we live into each day.
  • There’s no opting out.
  • But this is a politics of love and peace and mercy and the leaven of undeserved grace.
  • The Bread of God is a peace that passes all understanding. May we take and eat this bread.

Let us Pray.

Almighty God, who created us all equally in your own image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against systems of evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice, peace and dignity in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.