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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, July 15, 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)

Whether the subject is cooking, dancing, or singing, one of the more intriguing and entertaining aspects of competitive shows on television is the demeanor of the judges. Every show has at least one judge whose task is to give unvarnished and critical assessments of the performance or work of contestants. At first, upon hearing the critique, contestants are typically dismayed. Yet many come to appreciate the honesty, because it enables them to grow personally or perfect their craft. Has someone you trust, whether family, friend, or coach, ever served that role for you by voicing an uncomfortable truth?

Herod was the Jewish ruler of Galilee, supported by Roman authority, in the time of Jesus. Herod was surrounded by family, friends, and court officials who put aside honest critique and instead chose to flatter him. Many of them sought favors, appointments, property, or other wealth that might be gleaned from Herod’s political power. As a result of their fawning, Herod was ill prepared to address the political and religious unrest unfolding around him. But John the Baptist was not part of this obsequious crowd. John was a bold prophet in the wilderness, willing to be the voice of uncomfortable truths by launching critiques both against the ethics of Herod’s personal conduct and the futility of his brand of power politics to offer the masses a better life. To the surprise of many, Herod did not initially condemn John but, rather, kept him around. Perhaps this was because even as Herod chafed against the criticism, John pricked his conscience.

However, Herod ultimately gives in to the sycophants’ chorus. With lethal orders, he silences the voice crying in the wilderness. Yet Herod’s actions raise an important question for us: How will we handle those in our own lives who have uncomfortable truths to share? Will we listen to voices of dissent and protest that might at first trouble us but eventually lead us to more faithfully embody God’s justice and peace?

Holy God, who speaks in the voices of prophets and sages, help us to seek out and listen to those perspectives that might speak prophetically, even if uncomfortably, into our lives. Help us to better hear their cries and warnings and then respond in faithfulness. Amen.

Written by Joseph L. Morrow, Minister for Evangelism

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