Our passage from Mark is a scandal. Itís definitely not for children. Itís about a triangle among Herod Antipas, his illegal wife Herodias, and John the Baptist. Itís a gruesome story of sex, incest and a beheadingÖ and the deep guilty hypocrisy of Herod and the hard coldness of Herodias.
When Herod heard about Jesus, he thought that the beheaded John the Baptizer was reincarnated as Jesus Ö and this frightened him deeply. The Herod of this story is Herod Antipas one of the sons of Herod the Great who was the Herod that massacred the Innocents in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. Herod Antipas did not have a moral or thoughtful upbringing. Indeed the entire family was bereft of morality. †Herod Antipas relationships are tangled and even hard to describe Ö thereís incest all over the place.
His father, Herod the Great, had 5 wives. He murdered three of his sons. One surviving son, Herod Philip Ö Herod Antipasí brother Ö married Herodias. Herodias was the daughter of Herod Philipís and Herod Antipasí half-brother Aristobulus who was murdered by their father. Therefore Herodias was both her husbandsí niece.
Herodiasí daughter Salome was Herod Philipís daughter and Herod Antipasí niece by his own niece, Herodias. Therefore Herodias was both Herod Antipasí sister-in-law and niece Ö and thereís probably not a term for the relation between Herodias, Salome and Herod Antipas. Salome herself would be married to Philip the Tetrarch, another half-brother of Herod Antipas by his father. Therefore Salome was not only Herod Antipasí niece she was also his sister-in-law!
And now in our story from Mark sheís dancing around Herod Antipas in the fashion of a prostitute Ö in an obvious attempt to seduce Herod Antipas. And it was Herodias, his wife, who encouraged her daughter to do so!
So is that clear? Now do you understand what kind of family the Herodians were? It would make a good soap opera Ö
This would be comical if it werenít for John the BaptizerÖ and Herodís respect and fear of him. Herod was clearly taken by John and was thereby confused by him. Herod was brought up in a power-grabbing, murderous household and yet Johnís preaching was coming through to Herod. Even after he imprisoned John he would go into his dark, dank, filthy cell and listen to Johnís preaching and admonitions. And now in our scripture he thinks Jesus must be John because of his wondrous works and words.
But Herod was impulsive. Salomeís seduction was working just the way Herodias wanted it. Herod lusted after Salome, his niece and offered her anything she wanted. She knew her role was to be Herodiasí weapon. Herodias wanted John dead. She could hardly be surprised when Herodias told her to ask for the head of John. And Herod was trapped. The social demands of honor required him to follow through Ö and so he beheaded John. This would haunt him the rest of his life.
But so what? What does that have to do with Jesus and the disciples and us for that matter? For that matter why would John who was laying the groundwork for Jesusí coming bother with condemning Herod and Herodias for their incestuous relationship? Why put his life on the line for such a broken, corrupt, and sociopathic family?
John saw corruption all around him, not only in the Herodian family but among the people. He preached repentance, calling people to repent of their sins and return to the righteousness of God. Many, many people responded to John and followed him. We can imagine that the common person was fed up with the corruption all around them and found relief and hope in this powerful preacher and baptizer. Even Jesus came to John to be baptized as act of solidarity with the common woman and man.
John understood how corrosive corruption and immorality were. He understood that a society without morals and without honesty and without compassion was doomed. He understood how such corruption was infectious and spread like a plague, particularly when the infection is deepest in high places. So John thought that repentance was such an important antidote that even the most powerful must repent. And Herod was an easy target.
And his constant crying out for repentance was laying the groundwork for Jesusí coming. John, in the Gospels, was the forerunner of Jesus. John expected one to come who would replace him. When Jesus came to be baptized, John knew by the Holy Spirit that Jesus was the one.
John was strident and harsh in his ministry without a single recorded blessing spoken. He pulled no punches. He said straight on what he thought of corrupt people. There is no record of a compassionate side of John. He had no problem walking up and down the Holy Land condemning Herod and Herodias and making a scene. I wouldnít be surprise if the ordinary person on the street was getting a great deal of entertainment by his constant beating of that drum on the hated Herodians.
Finally Herod and Herodias had had it. Herod had John arrested. The Gospels lay the blame solely on Herodias. She didnít want the whole world to know she was in an incestuous relationship. But we know from a document written by Josephus, a Jewish historian that lived during the New Testament age that Herod was also very concerned that Johnís following was growing and that they may turn into a revolutionary army. He needed him off the streets.
Yet Herod was fascinated by Johnís preaching. And though he had him locked up he would visit him in prison to listen to his condemnations and demands. Could it be that John was willing to risk his life for the opportunity to bring Herod to repentance? If Herod reformed, many people of importance could very well follow and set the tone. If that was his plan, then Johnís gamble failed and he died for his preaching.
But John had already laid the ground work for Jesus. He brought the ordinary people to a point where they were opened to the teachings of Jesus. John knew that Jesus must rise and he must fall. Over time Johnís disciples would become Jesusí followers. But unlike John, Jesus involved himself with the ordinary people Ö thatís why he wanted to be baptized: to set the stage for his ministry as not only a preacher but someone who will act for an individual personís need and support. This was radically different from John who simply preached and baptized.† John was the forerunner of a new age. Jesus was the new age.
What about today? Well the spirit of John is still with us. There is a painting of Jesus knocking on a door without a door knob. It is a metaphor that Jesus does not come into our lives unless we invite him. John on the other hand would beat the door down and come into our lives shouting and condemning. His spirit is with us in our conscience.
John is that sense, that feeling, that voice that nags at us when something is not right with us. It is the sense of guilt or inappropriateness that only with effort can we push down and ignore. We can be like Herod and pretend that we are right with God. Yet like Herod we will constantly come back to that nagging voice and listen againÖ and walk away again. And if we donít care for it and donít deal with it, that voice may have the same fate as John Ö cut off from us. But then we condemn our fate to be like Herodís Ö a life descending into selfishness and isolation.
Or we can be like the disciples of John. They heard loudly his voice and his preaching. He called them Ö as he calls us Ö to examine our lives as to how close they are to God and Godís expectations. Instead of dismissing that voice, like his disciples, we can listen and repent of our alienation from God. We can face up to the reality that we have not walked with God. Then we can finally get back onto the righteous pathway of God.
Then when Jesus knocks on our knob-less door, we will open that door and invite Jesus into our lives. And with that invitation we will hear and follow the way that John never had an opportunity to follow: a way that leads us to a life of forgiveness and compassion. But also we will become citizens of the Kingdom of God. We will no longer be enslaved to the worldís materialism, hyper-individualism, and selfishness. We will be in the world, but no longer of it. We will see the world through the eyes of Jesus and like Jesus reach out to the broken world to be models of righteousness.
Think about it Ö
Godís grace and love be with you Ö