Mark 6:14-29 (NRSV)
14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some were saying, "John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him." 15 But others said, "It is Elijah." And others said, "It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised." 17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for 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. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it." 23 And he solemnly swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom." 24 She went out and said to her mother, "What should I ask for?" She replied, "The head of John the baptizer." 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
Several years ago after an extended vacation at our Lake Junaluska home, I left to return to Monroe where we were living at the time. Beverly and Taylor were going to stay for another week so I said my goodbyes at 3 pm and was on the road by 3:10. It was July 6 and I was sure that the July 4th traffic was over. My goal was to be back in Monroe before 6:30, to be in the office by 7 so that I could catch up and be ready to go to work on Monday morning.
I knew there might still be some traffic but I had no idea what I was going to run into. As I merged onto 19/23 and quickly accelerated to 60 miles per hour, I thought to myself, “Maybe the other July 4th vacationers left early. Hopefully I’ve missed the worst of the traffic.”Reality set in very quickly.
I hadn’t gone 2 miles when I was suddenly confronted by brake lights. I hit the brake pedal and almost didn’t get stopped in time. The Lexus RX300 behind me would have run into me if I hadn’t seen him and swerved into the other lane. After breathing a sigh of relief that we had all stopped without incident, I looked up with a groan. Highway 19/23 was a parking lot. I could also see in a distance that Interstate 40 was no better. As far as I could see there were cars, trucks, campers, and motorcycles sitting at a dead stop on the highway. Between a wonderful vacation and home in Monroe was this huge obstacle-JULY 4TH TRAFFIC! It was a rude awakening and an immediate, jolting return to the realities and complications of everyday life.
The insertion of the story about Herod and John the Baptist’s execution in the Gospel of Mark is a return to reality for the disciples who need to be reminded that there ministry and discipleship isn’t going to be easy. John tells Herod and Herodias the truth; it is wrong for Herod to marry his brother’s wife. Herod reacts as powerful people often react when they are told that they are wrong, he pushes back violently.
Whenever you speak truth to power, there will be push-back from those who feel that their power and authority is being questioned. Unfortunately, our fear of conflict and opposition causes us to keep silent. Jesus challenges us to speak up and say the things that people don’t want to hear. The body of Christ, the church, is not just a place of comfort but also a place of truth, not a truth that is tied to one political group or another but a truth that is tied to Jesus Christ Himself. That’s the reality of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Think about it.
Thanks to William H. Willimon for this thought, “Truth’s Consequences,”Pulpit Resource, July 15, 2018, 10.