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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 6:14–29

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.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

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. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 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. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 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.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 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.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. (NRSV)

This is quite a story and one of the more familiar ones in the New Testament. Usually the focus is on the dance of Herod’s daughter, unnamed here but known as Salome. She is portrayed in theatre, opera and art as the manipulative instigator of John’s death. However when I really read it closely I realized that it was Herod himself who was the manipulator, using his daughter, in complicity with his wife, to remove one who spoke the truth to his power. Herod silenced John, yet it is Salome who has carried the burden. I see her as an innocent, a scapegoat who shielded her father’s base behavior and provided justification for him to remove the one who dared call him out.

It is usually difficult and often dangerous to speak truth to power.

How often in our time do we see the innocent manipulated and the truth teller vilified, especially when it comes to women? How often do we see the whistleblower denied by authority or the victim become victimized by the system? Salome has been popularly portrayed as the erotic character of the Dance of the Seven Veils, objectifying her as the evildoer, while Herod deflects the blame. John speaks the threatening truth and is executed—as does Jesus, with the same result.

So where does that leave us? Do we have the courage to fight against injustice? Can we stand against the misuse of power? Will we protect the innocent scapegoat or turn a blind eye?

In Jesus we have the model and as his followers we have each other. And even in some small way we each can do our part.

Lord, in our weakness bring us courage. In our uncertainty bring us your truth. As your disciples bring us the energy to act in your name. Amen.

Written by Ken Ohr, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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