It is John whom I beheaded

February 8, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news today is from Mark 6:14-16.

King Herod heard about it, for his fame had become widespread, and people were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him.” Others were saying, “He is Elijah”; still others, “He is a prophet like any of the prophets.” But when Herod learned of it, he said, “It is John whom I beheaded. He has been raised up.”

This passage follows the rejection of Jesus from his home town Nazareth after he taught in its synagogue and Jesus’ sending forth the Twelve apostles to teach and heal. It is just before the gruesome account of John’s execution at Herod’s order (Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great and tetrarch of Galilee and Perea) and the return of the apostles. So, this passage seems somehow out of place. The authors of the New Jerome Biblical Commentary believe that Mark did this to indicate the cost of discipleship and that it foreshadows Jesus’ resurrection.

People couldn’t quite put their fingers on just who Jesus was. There was all kind of speculation especially as word of him and his miracles spread. When you haven’t had firsthand experience of someone you can conjure all sorts of images and exaggerate or distort the reports you’ve heard as you speak about him or her to others. It’s a bit like gossip.

John was an unforgettable figure who left a deep impression on people. His clearly the voice of God. Being raised from the dead was not an unheard of event. So some speculated that he had come back to life in the person of Jesus.

The Jews believed that the appearance of the prophet Elijah would precede the arrival of the Messiah. So, some people believed that Jesus could be Elijah but weren’t ready yet to accept him as the Messiah.

Still others thought that Jesus was undeniably a prophet. It had been 300 years since God had sent a prophet among them. He had been uncharacteristically silent. Ironically, the Jews typically hadn’t been very hospitable toward the prophets. Yet something in them hungered to hear the word of God.

Herod, it seems, was a man haunted by a bad dream. The dream of John whom he had unjustly murdered. John whom had infuriated but fascinated him at the same time. For Herod John was a nightmare that he wrestled with many nights, perhaps awaking in a cold sweat with fear gripping his heart so tightly he could scarcely breathe. And now his nightmare had assumed a new life to bedevil him day and night.

Apparently, though, Herod was never remorseful about ordering John’s execution. Or at least he wasn’t so remorseful that he was sorry. He didn’t confess or repent of his sin. So, the bloody head, the accusing eyes of John continued to haunt him.

Jesus had sent the Twelve to exorcise such demons from people tortured by their sins. First, though, they had to admit their sins and seek release through repentance. They had to have faith; otherwise, they remained locked in the prisons of their guilt. That’s where Herod lived, in the prison of his guilt, tormented by nightmares of an image he couldn’t cast from his mind. He couldn’t escape his accuser. Here was John raised from the dead to stalk him day and night.

We are all sinners. My sins haven’t been as egregious as Herod’s perhaps. I’m not so sure that the degree of sin makes a lot of difference, though. Sin separates me from God regardless of the nature of the sin. Until I am ready to admit my sin, until I am ready to genuinely regret my sin, until I am ready to be reconciled to God, I will be haunted by the memory and consequences of my sin. First, I have to believe that I can be forgiven. That’s what Jesus came to convince us of; we can be forgiven. We can be reunited with God. That’s what He wants desperately. Herod couldn’t believe that and there is some of Herod in my DNA.

If there weren’t, my reflections would have an entirely different focus and tone. I think I’m getting there; I think I’m much closer after spending so much time with Jesus in the gospels. I’m getting a greater and greater sense that I need to get there all the way, so that I can get about helping to bring about the kingdom of God in a more active, purposeful way. I need to get over the preoccupation with myself that is a sign of separateness from God, so that I can bring God to others.



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