Holy Week at Gloria Dei

Weekly Reflections 7-8-2015

Texts for Sunday 7/12: Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

"Give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter."  Mark 6:24b

In some ways, the Gospel for this Sunday is as fresh as the news. It is a story of a beheading which has been made horribly real these past several months. 

This story serves as a flashback for one of the most powerful men in Judea at that time, King Herod. Herod hears about Jesus' ministry and flashes back to the circumstances of his own drunken assent to behead John the Baptist. He believes that Jesus is John returned to haunt him.

I think John was already haunting him, don't you?

Flashback: John was out proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He publicly listed the sins of this king of the Jews who pretty much broke several commandments. We can imagine from our own political scene today how, if there is a public scandal, it must be "handled" immediately in hopes it will quickly fade from public memory. So Herod arrested him to limit John's audience to prison guards. We are told that Herod knew John was righteous and holy. Herod was "greatly perplexed" by John but "liked to listen to him"; Herod was only trying to minimize the damage. Then Herod got drunk at one his own parties and not wanting to show any kind of weakness in front of his guests and his family - after all he was a powerful man in Israel - after an uncomfortable encounter with his daughter, in front of everybody there, Herod ordered John beheaded. Mark reports that the king was "deeply grieved". I think the haunting started at that moment.

It is a sad tale, but an oddly long insertion into an otherwise succinct gospel. Plus, where is Jesus?  I think we need a flashback of our own, back to the start of Mark: "the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ". John is the first person we meet in the Gospel. He was fulfilling Isaiah's vision of someone who prepares and points the way to Jesus. In fact, Jesus only starts his own ministry after John is arrested. I think here, at the end of his life, John is still preparing and pointing the way to Jesus. Not too many chapters ahead we find Jesus challenged and eventually killed by the powers-that-be in Jerusalem. This time those leaders do not get drunk or grief the deed. It was a clear-headed choice.

So why tell us this story? Mark is big on pointing out the cost of following Jesus. In a recent Bible study of Mark, preparing for the national youth gathering, our youth discovered that discipleship is learning to follow Jesus into the world's suffering. John  was not only pointing  and preparing a way for Jesus...

Hmmm. Maybe John is haunting us too.

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245