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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Today’s 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. 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)

The beheading of John the Baptist isn’t exactly a pleasant story with which to start your day. It’s not the kind of biblical narrative we return to again and again to remind ourselves of God’s ever-present love and grace. At a glance, it is much more readily about the depths of human depravity and the violence we enact on one another. There isn’t really anyone in this story with whom I think we want to identify, but nevertheless, we can see glimpses of ourselves in every character. Certainly there are times in our lives when we feel that we are speaking truth to power—standing for what is right—and that all we get in return is punishment and persecution like John. And, of course, we all have moments of losing ourselves to bitterness and vengeance like Herodias.

But perhaps the real challenge for us in this story is what we recognize of ourselves in Herod. Herod is a man with many loyalties. Even though he is in a position of power, he is bound up in systems that tie him to his subjects, his queen, and her daughter. When these loyalties come into conflict with his relationship with John and his interest in John’s teachings, Herod finds himself compelled to act against his own morals and integrity. How often in today’s complex world do we find ourselves bound up in systems and loyalties that challenge our own integrity and faith? And how often do we find ourselves with the strength to live out our faith even when it costs us our comfort, our privilege, and our power? In this season of Lent, we take time to acknowledge the powers and systems and brokenness in our lives that distract us from God, and we return our hearts to Christ, who though the powers of this world sought to subdue him, overcame all in endless love for us.

Loving God, we give you thanks for your abundant grace and for your Son, Jesus Christ, who seeks us out and walks beside us even when we are lost to the brokenness of this world. Help us, in this Lenten season, to place our faith in Christ above all else. Amen.

Written by Layton Williams, Pastoral Resident

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