Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

by Crossings

Herod’s problem. Ours as well.
Mark 6:14-29
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
analysis by Ed Schroeder

Sabbatarians,
The texts for next Sunday (July 12, the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost) are Amos 7:7-15, Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 6:14-29. The Ephesians text presents Paul (or someone not unlike him) pushing the envelope with hyperbolic superlatives to “Praise God’s glorious grace.” That phrase comes 3 times in these 12 verses, which in Greek are but 4 sentences. In crass contrast, it seems at first, to this off-the-charts “upper” from Ephesians are the “downers” of the OT and Gospel pericopes. In the former we have Amos heading to the Northern Kingdom under orders with God’s Plumb-line message of doom. There he encounters Amaziah, the priest at the Bethel sanctuary, and carries out his assignment to totally deaf ears. End result of the prophetic ministry: Failure.
In the day’s Gospel we hear the grisly narrative of John the Baptist’s execution. Herod responds with sybaritic whimsy to John’s preaching of repentance. He is as serious about God’s call as is the Queen in Alice in Wonderland: Off with his head! That bizarre ending for John’s ministry “sends a signal,” as today’s politicians say, about the eventual outcome for the ministry of the One coming after John. Mark wants us to know that Jesus got the message, for after his disciples told him what happened, Jesus’ very next move is to “go away [with the disciples] to a solitary place.” Although the story of John’s death takes up most of the verses, the pericope is about Herod’s response to Jesus looking and acting–in his own words–like “John has been raised from the dead.” Which, to be sure, didn’t happen. But Mark wants to signal to us that when Herod et al. finally did likewise to Jesus, this one did come back from the dead.

So a Crossings matrix on this Gospel text could look like this:

DIAGNOSIS
Herod’s problem (Jereboam’s and Amaziah’s problem too). Ours as well.

STAGE 1. Refusing to repent in the face of God’s explicit and personally addressed call to do just that.

STAGE 2. Hearing and trusting alternate “words” in place of repenting. E.g., I am the king. This is my kingdom. And in Jereboam’s case: this is my sanctuary and the temple of my kingdom.

STAGE 3. Doomed. God finally acts on what the divine plumb line exposes. Thus the only alternative when God calls for repentance and “they would not repent,” is that big sinners (Herod, Jereboam, Amaziah) and little ones too “go into exile,” wrenched from the native land they dreamed they could hold on to. Even when they kill the messenger to kill the message, the Word of God finally does them in. Even the messengers of such word, like that Word itself, outlive the ones who kill them. [But that’s getting beyond the diagnosis into the new prognosis.]

NEW PROGNOSIS Jesus’s solution

STAGE 4. Jesus, the one “greater than John,” enters the scene also on assignment with a message from God. See Jesus’ first recorded words in Mark for the law-gospel substance of that message (1:15). Herod et al. do to him what they did to John, but this one is “raised from the dead.” His “being greater” is not some razzle-dazzle power he has that John did not. Rather it inheres in the title he bears, as Mark testifies in 1:1. What all that title means is the substance of Mark’s entire gospel, and he makes the point that it was the pagan centurion at the cross who caught it. He is the Good News to whom sinners are to turn in the turnabout action of repentance. His Gospel enables repentance unto life, the contrast to Stage 3 above.

STAGE 5. So, repent and believe the Good News.

STAGE 6. Living as disciples of this Lord. That is living in repentance. Daily turning away from the Herodian messages that tug at all of us, and daily turning toward the Good News of the crucified and risen Messiah. As disciples out on assignment from that Lord to roll back Herodianism wherever we encounter it. See 6:12f. as an example. One might even–on occasion–break into the hyperbole of doxology as Ephesians 1 does to the praise of God’s glorious grace.

Peace & Joy! Ed

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