Blogging Towards Sunday, January 8th
As I read this pericope (section of the gospel) it seems to be about authenticity and boldness. How far are we called to go in standing for what we believe to be right? How bold are we in proclaiming what we believe to be true, right, gospel-good-news? Do we proclaim it with just words, or do we do so with all of our lives and livelihoods? In a world that often is toxically tainted by hypocrisy, polished messages, photoshopped images and smooth talkers who promise everything, I’ve been told to not lose my head. No one expects you to go that far in doing what you think, or what the Bible says. And yet in a world that’s bankrupt of belief in promises made – whether that be by politicians, bankers, bosses, union leaders or clergy – aren’t we all looking for some sort of authenticity that’s organically earned by doing what is preached and promised? In my life, I first had a transformational faith experience as an adolescent when I encountered and dialogued with people – principally adults who weren’t in my nuclear DNA based family – who actually did what they believed and what Jesus taught. It was experiencing that radicalness that shaped and reshaped me.
Mark writes this third major section of his literary re-telling of the gospel, which scholars say starts in 6:6b, in a format that contrasts two feasts: this one in which the beheading of one person: John the Baptizer in a sense as entertainment for those who no longer hunger for food because they have enough to eat; with a miraculous meal in which Jesus somehow feeds thousands of hungry with one person’s picnic lunch Mark 6:30-44.
It’s a transitional section. Jesus has gone out and gotten famous as a radical teacher. And yet at home no one can see him for who he is outside of his family and their history. He sends out his followers, not just to invite folks to a block party, but to do radical things in his name. His authority is one that’s shared, collaborative, growing, organic, catchy. As his fame and following grows, Mark takes the time to show how John the Baptizer, who came first in terms of popularity as a radical proclaimer of a different social order and authentic community organizer, exits the stage.
Herod Antipas (for that’s who he really was) has been repeatedly attacked in public by John as a sinner. The king of Israel, or the puppet ruler place by the all mighty imperial power of Rome (depending upon how you saw it) was the son of Herod the Great (who was jealous of the birth of Jesus as foretold to him by the Magi). John had preached against him, pointing out publicly his sinfulness: he had married his half-brother’s wife, who was also his niece. But it gets worse, Herod Antipas then lusts after his step-daughter, succumbing in a sense to peer pressure. She dances so well, in whatever her outfit was, to entice him to promise her anything. She doesn’t ask for the kingdom, but rather for the head of the guy who had rallied publicly against her mother as an incestuous, class-climbing harlot. Herod seems to have hesitated to have him beheaded, recognizing that it was wrong, but not having enough of a backbone to go against the way in which he had been trapped publicly by this young girl and his lustful sex drive.
Herod is terrified. He hears of the wonderous works and mighty miracles of Jesus and his followers and he freaks out: is John back from the dead? Is John coming for him? His fear seems to be more about his own guilt, than his impression of Jesus and the community of revolutionaries that he’s gathering through his teaching and speaking.
If the gospel and the narratives of the Bible are stories and also metanarratives that teach about the meaning, sense and purpose of life, we have to ask what does this text have intend for us existentially and spiritually? I’ve never had anyone beheaded, and realistically don’t see my power, or muscle strength, growing enough to do so. And yet I, like Herod Antipas, also do what seems more and most expedient at times: please other people, do what others want, take the easy way out in a conflict situation. I too often respond out of fear, insecurity, the fear to please – overwhelmed by my own baggage to the point that I don’t see or hear what’s right before me.
The difference between Jesus, and the feast he serves, and Herod Antipas and the feast he hosts – is that Jesus is really in the now – the present of the meal. He’s aware of what’s going on, the hunger of his guests, the way in which the world need to be fed. John the Baptizer was also in touch with that. He spoke out against Herod’s weak example as a leader and inappropriate lazy and self-serving use of his power. I think Herod knows what’s right, that he recognizes the inherent wrongness in his marriage to his niece and lust for his step-daughter (who’s also a distant cousin). Yet he, unlike John, doesn’t have enough of a back bone to authentically claim and live out what is right, what invites to life for him and for others. He wants what he wants and he also wants to be adored, heralded as a paragon and looked to as a great man.
I – and I mean we – do the same thing. We often want to please others, to be recognized for our efforts, to be looked to and after. Yet in a society in which the problems and ills are so apparent and the solutions and peacemakers so hard to discern, if they’re not invisible, why do we settle for such inauthencity? Jesus invites us to recognize who we are and to see what God has given us and to use it to serve our neighbor and God; and to give and receive love in doing so.
How are we inauthentic in the ways in which we live out what we base our life upon – whether it’s the teachings of Jesus, Karl Marx, Adam Smith, JP Sartre, or George Washington?
If we are indeed the solution to the problems we face (as many would say), why do we so often flee the conflict inherent in those same problems?
How is God in Christ calling us to be a authentic in the way that we live out what we base our life and livelihood upon in Oakland and Berkeley?