Intrigued.... or faithful?

Date: 
Sunday, July 12, 2015
Scriptures: 
Mark 6:14-29

This gospel reading is a bit confusing in ways at first read.  First, if we look back we are hearing about the early days of Jesus’ ministry.  John the Baptist is not a subject of discussion.

And then, suddenly, we’re talking about John.  What happened?

As Jesus’ ministry begins, everyone is trying to figure out what’s going on, and who, exactly, he is.

Herod Atipas thinks he has an answer.  Now, this Herod is not the Herod of Jesus’ birth, nor is he the Herod of the book of Acts who comes later.  But this Herod does share a nasty, bullish streak with the other two.

So Herod thinks he has an answer.  He thinks that it is John the Baptist, come back to life.  Which takes us back to the story of John the Baptist.

Remember John.  The one who spoke against the Pharisees, and the tax collectors, and all sorts of other people for their wrong-doing, for what we call sins - the things that brought brokeness into the community.

That might have been fine.  Then one day, John begins to criticise Herod.  The text refers to him as “King Herod”, but Caesar had never allowed him that title.  Still, one does not trifle with the political powers, and military powers.

Perhaps John knew it was a bad idea.  But he begins to criticise Herod just the same.  
You see, Herod had a brother, Philip.
And Philip had a wife, whose name was Herodias - which gets confusing, being so much like Herod’s name.

But then Herod decides he’s going to marry his brother’s wife.
And no divorce involved, it seems.

Which makes the whole thing adulterous and incestuous, and is just one of the many stories in the Bible that would illicit a “viewer discretion” warning on television.

And not only that, but Herod had already been married to a Nabataen princess, who he had sent away.  Which angered the king of the Nabataians, who sent an army that thoroughly trounced Herod’s army.  

So John decides that, to be fair, if he is going to speak clearly about the Pharisees, and the tax collectors, and others..... then he needed to speak clearly about Herod.  And he did.

And he was arrested.  
But - and it is not the only time in history it has happened - the one responsible for the arrest became intrigued by the one they had arrested.  And so it seems Herod would have conversations with him - bringing him out of the prison, having some kind of discussion or debate, and then sending him back to prison.

King Herod was intrigued by the message of John.  
Herod was intrigued by the word of God.

But he was not interested in living the word of God.

One day he has his own birthday party - inviting hs courtiers and officers and all the V.I.P.s from Galilee.  At some point Herod has his new wife’s daughter come in to perform - Mark refers to her as Herodias, but that appears to be an error - Matthew refers to her as Herodias’ daughter, and the historian Josephus refers to her as Salome.  

In any case, trying to leave the confusion behind, the girl comes in to dance.  Now, some commentators cast this in a very bad light - Herod’s step-daughter, Herod’s niece - in what way was he pleased with her dance?

And how drunk was Herod when he said “ask for anything, and I will give it to you.”?

Whatever the answer, the girl runs to her mother.  Her mother hated John the Baptist because of his criticism.  She had been hoping for him to be executed for quite some time.  And so she told her daughter to ask for his head on a platter - which she did, and which he did.

So, Herod, intrigued by the message of John, by the word of God,
in no way followed that message, that word.

He was a spectator to the word.
Not a doer.

John, of course, had been the doer of the word.
Not that he benefited in this life from being a doer of the word,
    but he knew he did what was right.
And he had done a lot with his life, living God’s call.

It was the first day of basketball practice at Wingate High School in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Coach handed a ball to each player.

“Boys,” he said, “I want you to practice shooting from the spots you might expect to be in during the game.”

One of the boys (who was pretty much there as a substitute for the star players - in fact he was substitute #12) immediately sat down on the bench and began shoot the ball toward the basket from there.

The person who shares this story writes:

You might say that boy didn’t expect to get to play much. And I suppose he was just trying to get a laugh out of his teammates. But, there are some people who sit the bench, because that’s where they’ve gotten used to being. They never strive to much more than that - they think that their role is to be a spectator - even if they’re wearing the team uniform.

The writer continues:
    It’s as if we’ve made Christianity into a spectator sport. We just sit back in church and listen to the music, and the sermons and never really get involved in the game. We need some Christians today to get off the sidelines and get on the front lines. There is a special position that God has for all those who are in Christ, but we will never discover it as long as we watch safely from the sideline. We need to put action to our faith.

So here is our challenge.
What have we done in the past week because we are Christians?

    Have we prayed?
    Have we spoken or acted in solidarity
        with our First Nations sisters and brothers?
    Have we reached out to a neighbour or stranger
        or to someone in grief?
    Have we given time or money to an individual - not a friend or family member - or to a charity?

One could ask:
in what way have we showed that we are on Herod’s side of the equation in this past week?  In what ways have we shown that we are merely intrigued by Christian faith and Christian life?

And
in what way have we showed that we are on John’s side of the equation in this past week?  In what ways have we shown that we are moved, directed and propelled by our faith?

I ask about this past week.  But this past week is not of such great importance. Because there is nothing we can do to change it now.  

However.   This coming week is another thing altogether.
We can ask the same questions for this coming week:

    Will we pray?
    Will we speak or act in solidarity
        with our First Nations sisters and brothers?
    Will we reach out to a neighbour or stranger
        or to someone in grief?
    Will we give time or money to an individual - not a friend or family member - or to a charity?

One can ask:
in what way will we show that we are on Herod’s side of the equation in this next week?  In what ways will we show that we are merely intrigued by Christian faith and Christian life?

And
in what way will we show that we are on John’s side of the equation in this next week?  In what way will we show that we are moved, directed and propelled by our faith?