In Mark 6:14-20 we start with a shock. John the Baptist has already beheaded. Cousin of Jesus Christ, it seems obvious that the mistaking of one for another would be inevitable. In a culture where most people are probably related in some way; it seems likely that people would look similar.
As everyone tries to figure out who this Jesus person. Herod tells himself that it is “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” I wonder if he himself helps to perpetuate this rumor.
Then we get the backstory. Herodias is scared of the holiness and power of John the Baptist. It is hard not feel empathy for a woman who has a little bit of power. It seems likely that John the Baptist has more influence on her husband than she, a mere woman, has. And John the Baptist is counseling Herod that he should not have married his brother’s wife. If Herod takes the advice of John the Baptist, where does that leave Herodias? She has such little power as the wife of Herod, it must be hard to know she might be divorced or killed in order to appease John the Baptist. For years, she has been cast as the villain, as her mother was, but it is an interesting contrast to Esther. It shows what little power women have at the time and how mother and daughter are working together to try to protect one another. The echoes of Ruth & Naomi and Bathsheba in addition to Esther all show how little power there really is for these women.
One of the most interesting pieces of today’s passage is that it recasts John the Baptist from outlandish Nazarene who yells at passers by, baptizes randomly, proclaims the end of the world, and eats bugs. This John the Baptist is high placed, and in an unlikely friendship with Herod. He holds real power, which Herodias fears because “he was a righteous and holy man” and Herod protected him. His influence is further explained that Herod “was greatly perplexed, yet he liked to listen to” John the Baptist.”
These short verses gives depth and gravity to John the Baptist as a historic figure. He is a man of influence, a prophet of the court. Was he seeking to make Herod a God fearer? Clearly John the Baptist thinks he can play with the power and principalities of the time, and he lost. A dark foreshadowing of the fate of Jesus Christ. Because Herod, is likewise given a new depth of character in this short passage. He is one who is fascinated by holiness and puzzles, and also one whose power is negotiable enough that Herod feels like he cannot back down from his vow to his daughter to give her whatever she wants, even though it “grieves’ him.
Who is this John the Baptist in high places? Who is Herod? Questions of identity continue in Mark–giving an almost phantasmic quality to all of these historic figures. Laying heavy groundwork for the ultimate question of “Who is Jesus?”
And, who are we?
Where are you heading this week with RCL? Share which passage is speaking to you and how the Holy Spirit is nudging your theology this week. Share your comments or links with us!
Katy Stenta is a solo pastor at a tiny Presbyterian church that is bigger on the inside in Albany, NY since 2020 and blogs prayers & Narrative Lectionary at http://www.katyandtheword.com She is also the co-founder of the fledgling TrailPraisers inclusive Worship. When she is not dreaming up projects and ideas, some of which creep into the church, she plays with her three boys-boys or goes and visits her husband at the library, while he works, to read.
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