Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

by Crossings

Unusual Politics
Mark 6:14-29
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10)
Analysis by Lori A. Cornell

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias 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.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s* head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

DIAGNOSIS: Worldly Politics

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) – Politics as Usual
When Herod beheaded John the Baptist, he did it out of obligation to his daughter; after all, he was a man of his word, and he had promised to fulfill her wish (v. 23). Prior to this, however, Herod actually had feared-even admired-John (v. 20). But John’s preaching (“It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife”) had offended Herod’s new wife severely, and so Herod knew he would have no peace in his household until John was silenced. And Herod certainly had the authority to put troublemakers to death, so that’s what he did to John. It was politics as usual.

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) – Politics Get Personal
Herod had a difficult time shaking what he’d done to John though. In fact, when Herod catches wind of the fact that Jesus and his disciples are out preaching repentance and healing people, he becomes horribly uneasy. Is this Jesus actually John the Baptist raised from the dead (vv. 14, 16)? Suddenly John’s condemnation of Herod comes alive in the person of Jesus, reminding him of his sin and making him fearful: Could it be that God has trumped him by raising the dead? But the problem gets worse: Jesus and his disciples are calling for repentance (v. 12). And, even though Herod executed John reluctantly, he cannot afford to admit his mistake. (After all, if he repented wouldn’t he come under judgment from his new wife, daughter, and subjects?)

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) – Politics That Kill
Being judged by his wife, daughter, and civil subjects is the least of Herod’s problems though. Herod’s inability to repent (and later his condemnation of Jesus at trial) ultimately places him under God’s judgment. Herod is unrepentant and the price of his sin is death. So do we all come under God’s judgment when we fail to repent.

PROGNOSIS: Kingdom Politics

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) – A Kingdom That Makes Alive
Herod is not dealing with a reincarnate prophet though. (Even if John had been raised from the dead, he couldn’t have saved anyone from God’s judgment.) No. Now Herod is dealing with God’s Son Jesus. And this Son not only has the power to preach repentance (as John did before him), but to forgive sinners both temporally and eternally. And, thankfully, Jesus does not practice worldly politics as Herod does-abandoning or maintaining allegiances on a whim. Instead, Jesus does what is necessary to fulfill his kingdom’s calling (which is to make believers out of doubters); and he does so even when it means his own death. In fact, it’s with his death that Jesus accomplishes his calling; and with his resurrection he accomplishes salvation for sinners.

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) – The Kingdom Gets Personal
But this isn’t just some generic promise. No, when the Word enters into our homes and hearts-just like Jesus and his disciples entered villages and houses with the good news (6:10)-it gets up close and personal. It comes into our homes and hearts to remind us that Jesus bore the weight of God’s judgment for each one of us personally. This personal word for you and me is also a transforming word-meant, not just to be heard, but to be received deep in the heart where it can take root and grow (4:8).

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) – Unusual Politics
Unlike Herod, who liked to listen to John, but never took his words to heart, we listen to our Lord and take his words to heart. We know that our Lord plans to make us more than his admirers; with his Word he is making us his disciples. And as recipients of his kingdom politics-politics which transform doubters into believers, and sinners into disciples-we act unusually. We don’t place political expedience or even family peace above faith in our Lord. Rather we face tough questions and situations, ready to risk our own stature (even place ourselves under the judgment of others) in order to serve Jesus.


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