The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Mark 6:14-29

WHEN I WAS A YOUNG FIRST LIEUTENANT OF INFANTRY, I WAS ASSIGNED TO A POSITION NORMALLY HELD BY A MAJOR; THE OPERATIONS AND TRAINING OFFICER OF AN INFANTRY BATTALION. WHILE I WAS AN OUTSTANDING OFFICER, I GOT PUT THERE BECAUSE ALL THE MAJORS WERE IN VIETNAM. ONE OF MY DUTIES WAS TO FILE AN ANNUAL REPORT ON THE UNIT’S COMBAT READINESS. WHEN I SUBMITTED THE 2715 REPORT TO THE COLONEL, I DID NOT CERTIFY THE BATTALION BECAUSE COMPANY A WAS SHORT THREE NIGHTS OF NIGHT OPERATIONS. THE NEXT DAY, I WAS STANDING AT ATTENTION IN FRONT OF THE COLONEL’S DESK AS THE A COMPANY COMMANDER STOOD BY HIS SIDE. THEY TRIED TO CONVINCE ME TO ALTER THE REPORT AND CERTIFY THE UNIT. MY CAREER WAS ON THE LINE, AND, AFTER A MOMENT OF SILENCE, I SAID, “SIR, I WOULD BE SUBMITTING A FALSE REPORT, AND IF YOU ORDERED ME TO DO IT I WOULD NOT AS THAT WOULD BE AN ILLEGAL ORDER.” THE COLONEL STARED AT ME FOR WHAT SEEMED THE LONGEST TIME, THEN TURNED TO THE A COMPANY COMMANDER AND SAID, “GET YOUR COMPANY MOVING TO THE TRAINING AREA, AND BEFORE YOU GO I WANT YOUR TRAINING PLAN FOR THE NEXT THREE NIGHTS ON MY DESK.” HE LOOKED BACK AT ME AND SAID, “WE’LL SUBMIT A LATE REPORT; DISMISSED.” IT WORKED OUT ALL RIGHT FOR ME, BUT WHEN YOU SPEAK THE TRUTH TO THOSE WHO HAVE POWER OVER YOU, YOU MUST BE PREPARED FOR THE CONSEQUENCES.

AT FIRST GLANCE, THIS INSERTION OF THE STORY OF THE MURDER OF JOHN THE BAPTIST MIGHT SEEM SOMEWHAT OUT OF PLACE IN MARK’S GOSPEL, AND EVEN A BIT OF A DISTRACTION. IT JUMPS FROM THE APPARENT PRESENT TO THE PAST TO EXPLAIN THE WHY AND HOW OF JOHN’S DEATH, AND MUST BE UNDERSTOOD AS INTIMATELY RELATED TO THE MINISTRY OF JESUS, AND AS A FORESHADOWING OF WHAT IS TO COME. JESUS DID NOT BEGIN HIS MINISTRY UNTIL AFTER THE ARREST OF JOHN THE BAPTIST, AND HIS PROCLAMATION WAS EXACTLY THE SAME AS THAT OF JOHN; “REPENT, FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND.” AS MARK BEGINS TO TELL US ABOUT JESUS SENDING THE TWELVE OUT ON THEIR OWN TO PREACH, TEACH, HEAL, AND SPREAD THE GOOD NEWS, HE INSERTS THIS STORY ABOUT THE CONSEQUENCES OF SPEAKING THE TRUTH OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD TO THE RULERS OF THE KINGDOMS OF THIS WORLD.

WHEN HEROD THE GREAT DIED, ROME SPLIT UP HIS KINGDOM AMONG HIS THREE SONS; HEROD ANTIPAS GOT GALILEE AND AN AREA BY THE DEAD SEA. WHEN IN ROME, AS THE DIVISION WAS BEING DECIDED, HE STAYED WITH HIS BROTHER, PHILLIP, AND HAD AN AFFAIR WITH HIS BROTHER’S WIFE, HERODIAS; WHO WAS THE DAUGHTER OF THE HIGH PRIEST, AND ALSO HIS OWN NIECE. HE RETURNED WITH HER TO GALILEE, DIVORCED HIS FIRST WIFE, AND MARRIED HERODIAS. THE RELATIONSHIP TO WHICH JOHN OBJECTED WAS ONE OF ADULTERY, DECEIT, AND INCEST; FAIRLY TYPICAL OF THE RULING CLASS OF THE TIME. SINCE JOHN SPOKE THE TRUTH TO HEROD, IT IS NO WONDER THAT HERODIAS HATED JOHN; HE THREATENED HER POSITION AND POWER OVER HEROD.

THE DINNER PARTY FOR HEROD’S BIRTHDAY INCLUDED HIS NOBLES, HIS MILITARY OFFICERS, AND THE RICH AND POWERFUL OF GALILEE. WHILE MARK DOES NOT GO INTO GREAT DETAIL AS TO WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PARTY, WE CAN ASSUME THAT HEROD AND HIS GANG WERE TRYING TO EMULATE A ROMAN DINNER PARTY, WHERE GLUTTONY AND DRUNKENNESS WAS NOT ONLY COMMON BUT EXPECTED. THE FACT THAT A YOUNG GIRL, PROBABLY NOT MORE THAN TWELVE YEARS OLD, DANCED IN FRONT OF A ROOM FULL OF DRUNKEN MEN GIVES US SOME IDEA OF THE TONE OF THE PARTY.

MARK WANTS US TO RECOGNIZE IN THIS PARTY THE WAY OF THE POWERS OF THE WORLD; THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE POWER STRUCTURE GETS TOGETHER. MARK SETS UP A PROFOUND CONTRAST BETWEEN THE KINGDOMS OF THIS WORLD AND THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN; BETWEEN THE DINNER HOSTED BY HEROD AND THE MEALS HOSTED BY JESUS. THE DINNER OF HEROD IS FOR THE ELITE, AND IS ALL ABOUT CORRUPTION AND VIOLENCE. THE MEALS OF JESUS ARE FOR THE COMMON PEOPLE, AND BRING JEWS AND GENTILES TOGETHER. THE CONCLUSION OF HEROD’S DINNER IS THE SEVERED HEAD OF JOHN THE BAPTIST ON A PLATTER. THE CONCLUSION OF JESUS FEEDING 5000 PEOPLE WITH FIVE LOAVES AND TWO FISH IS THE 12 BASKETS OF FOOD LEFT OVER. IN ONE WE SEE THE GRASPING NATURE OF WORLDLY POWER; IN THE OTHER WE SEE THE OPEN HAND OF GOD’S GRACE.

HEROD WAS CERTAINLY DRUNK WHEN HE PROMISED THE YOUNG GIRL ANYTHING SHE WANTED, EVEN TO HALF OF HIS KINGDOM; SINCE HE HELD THE KINGDOM FOR CAESAR AND IT WAS NOT HIS TO GIVE AWAY. WHEN THE GIRL, PROMPTED BY HERODIAS, ASKED FOR JOHN’S HEAD, HEROD, MORE CONCERNED WITH LOSING FACE IN FRONT OF HIS CRONIES THAN WITH THE LIFE OF JOHN, MURDERED A MAN HE RESPECTED AND FEARED AS HOLY AND RIGHTEOUS. THUS IS THE WAY OF THE POWERS OF THE WORLD WITH THOSE WHO SPEAK THE TRUTH.

THIS IS MARK’S WARNING TO THOSE WHO DARE TO PREACH THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD TO THE POWERS OF THIS WORLD. THE WORD OF GOD MADE FLESH WAS NAILED TO A CROSS BY THE EARTHLY POWERS FOR SPEAKING THE WORD OF TRUTH. OF THE FIRST APOSTLES OF THE CHRIST, ONLY ONE DIED A NATURAL DEATH, AND HE WAS IN EXILE. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. WAS THROWN IN THE BIRMINGHAM JAIL FOR SPEAKING OUT FOR EQUALITY AND PEACE, AND WAS SLAIN BY A SNIPER. BISHOP ROMERO OF EL SALVADOR, FOR SPEAKING OUT AGAINST THE MURDERS DONE BY THE GOVERNMENT, WAS SHOT IN THE HEART AS HE CELEBRATED THE EUCHARIST. ARCHBISHOP THOMAS BECKET WAS MURDERED AT THE ALTAR BECAUSE THE KING WAS DISPLEASED WITH HIM. THE LIST OF THOSE WHO SUFFERED FROM THE POWERS OF THIS WORLD FOR SPEAKING THE TRUTH OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS A VERY LONG ONE, AND IS ADDED TO DAILY AS CHRISTIANS SUFFER AND DIE AT THE HANDS OF THOSE WHO OPPOSE THE CHRIST OF GOD AND HIS WORD OF GRACE.

IN THIS COUNTRY, THE WORST WE CAN EXPECT AT THIS TIME IS REJECTION AND RIDICULE; ALTHOUGH I DO NOT EXPECT THINGS TO GET BETTER, BUT WORSE. FOR OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS AROUND THE WORLD, IT IS A REAL AND PRESENT DANGER TO PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. YET, WE ARE SENT BY THE LORD, AS HE SENT HIS DISCIPLES, TO TAKE THE WORD OF GOD’S KINGDOM TO THE ENTIRE WORLD. ONCE WE, BY GOD’S GRACE, ARE MADE MEMBERS OF GOD’S KINGDOM, NOTHING CAN EVER TAKE THAT AWAY FROM US. WHEN WE ARE HIS, WE ARE HIS FOREVER; IN THIS LIFE AND THE NEXT. AS PAUL WROTE IN HIS LETTER TO THE EPHESIANS, “YOU ALSO, WHEN YOU HAD HEARD THE WORD OF TRUTH, THE GOSPEL OF YOUR SALVATION, AND HAD BELIEVED IN HIM, WERE MARKED WITH THE SEAL OF THE PROMISED HOLY SPIRIT; THIS IS THE PLEDGE OF OUR INHERITANCE TOWARDS REDEMPTION AS GOD’S OWN PEOPLE, TO THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY.” AS MARTIN LUTHER PUT IT SO PLAINLY IN HIS GREAT HYMN, “THIS BODY THEY MAY KILL, GOD’S TRUTH ABIDETH STILL; HIS KINGDOM IS FOREVER.”

WE ARE CALLED TO SPEAK THE TRUTH OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD, TO THOSE IN POWER AND TO THOSE IN CHAINS; AND, IN SO DOING, WE ARE TO FEAR NOTHING, FOR IN CHRIST IS THE ONLY WAY, AND THE ONLY TRUTH, AND THE ONLY LIFE.
AMEN

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