Text: Mark 6:1-29
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.
These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”
Others said, “He is Elijah.”
And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”
But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”
For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.
Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.
The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”
She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”
“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.
At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
If I had to sum up this week’s text in one word, it would be “rejection.” First, Jesus experiences rejection in his hometown, where no one can believe this little kid they watched grow up is now this miracle worker, teaching with authority. They knew him when he was still in diapers, for goodness’ sake! Then, as Jesus sends his disciples out, he gives them advice about what to do if they are rejected. “Shake the dust off your feet!” he says. And then, in the third, and longest, segment of the text, we hear of the beheading of John the Baptist. If that isn’t a story of rejection, I don’t know what is. That third story is what we’ll be considering today.
Herod Antipas was the ruler of the Galilee. While he didn’t have the title of “king,” he was known as the Tetrarch (which means “ruler of a quarter”). He ruled Galilee as a client state of Rome, meaning that all of Herod’s power was derived from and subordinate to Rome. Herod’s own rise to power was one fraught with complications and manipulations. He was a younger son of Herod the Great, and it was never intended for him to rise to become a ruler. But after the executions of two older brothers, and another tried to poison his father, Herod Antipas was granted the rule of Galilee and Perea, which had to then be ratified by Caesar Augustus. Perhaps Herod Antipas felt like he had a lot to prove, and he sought to establish himself as a great and powerful ruler like his father.
As one who had grown accustomed to a life of seeking power for himself, Herod Antipas had a habit of taking what he wanted, which included his half-brother’s wife, Herodias. Herod divorced his own wife, in order to marry her. War broke out because of it. John the Baptist was an outspoken critic of Herod Antipas. Ultimately, that outspoken criticism led to his imprisonment and subsequently his beheading.
I don’t know about you, but these days, I am wrestling with Christianity’s relationship to the powers and rulers of the world. John the Baptist did not have any problem calling out and confronting Herod. John was definitely not a supporter of Rome or any of its subordinate institutions. His defiance and his proclamation of sin got him in big time trouble. I can’t help but look at our society today, where many who consider themselves to be a part of Christian evangelicalism appear to try to derive their own power from the “rulers of this world.” I can’t help but think about how many Christians are unwilling to confront corrupt and abusive powers of our leaders when they demonstrate such behavior. John the Baptist knew that his power did not come from Herod or from Rome. His power came from God. I can’t help but wonder, what would John the Baptist be doing and saying if he were living today?
John the Baptist reminds us of the cost of being sent out on God’s mission – it can mean rejection. Herod was afraid of John and the kind of life and kingdom John was proclaiming. He also came to see Jesus as a threat to his power and authority. There is much for us to wrestle with in this text. Where do you find yourself in it today?
o What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o How do you understand the relationship between faith and the political sphere? What do you consider to be appropriate or inappropriate interaction?
o In your understanding, how would you characterize the kingdom of God?
Where do you see corruption or injustice in today’s world? Consider how you might be called, as a person of faith, to address it. Take the first steps towards doing so.
Journal about how the idea of “rejection” sits with you.
God, your kingdom is not like any kingdom of this world. Align me with your goodness, with your purpose In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.