Thursday, April 12, 2012

John, we hardly knew ye

The Word for today:
Mark 6.6b-29

For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias's daughter 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 to you." And he vowed to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom." And she went out and said to her mother, "For what should I ask?" And she said, "The head of John the Baptist." And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. (Mark 6:17-28)

When I read the account of the beheading of John the Baptist, I feel as if we’ve located the Hall of Shame.

The Bible has a Hall of Fame, located in Hebrews 11. There you will find Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Sarah and Jacob and Joseph and Moses and Samson and Rahab and the rest, all heroes of faith.

What a contrast when we walk into Herod’s Palace and find Herod himself there along with his lovely wife Herodias, who had left his brother Philip in order to marry him.

Which John the Baptist said was wrong. Which cost him his life; because when they sever, then serve, your head, you’re dead.

His head ended up on a platter because that’s where Herodias wanted it. She rather enjoyed being queen instead of the relative nobody she’d been, so when she found out Herod was listening a little too intently to John the Baptist about the adultery issue, she looked for a way to snuff John.

Which opportunity presented itself after Herod, in the presence of his drunken entourage (with their bellies full of wine and their eyes full of candy) promised Herodias’ dancing daughter up to half the kingdom for her pleasing performance.

Which was worth more than the head of a prophet on a platter, so that’s what Herodias told her daughter to ask for.

Had enough? Me, too. I’ve often thought that if you peeled back the layers of that scene, every sin known to mankind was in attendance at their grotesque banquet.

And how awful for the Story’s sake, to see the poignant and powerful presence of John the Baptist vanish from the page. We sense we hardly knew him.

But I’ve got a feeling, just a feeling, that we haven’t heard the last from John the Baptist. Second comings in Scripture are not confined to Jesus.  Moses already made his way back here and so did Elijah.

There’s a real biblical case to be made that John the Baptist will reappear before “The Day of the Lord,” (The Second Coming of Jesus.) So if you miss John, do not dismay.

Just keep a supply of locusts and wild honey on hand. And if you hear a commanding voice condemning the self-righteous as a “brood of vipers,” then you’ll know it’s either Jesus or John the Baptist—or both.

They are the only two who ever used the phrase. They are the only two who could.


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