Mark is the shortest of our Gospels. It moves quickly and doesn’t spend a lot of time on details. Much of what happens in Mark happens “immediately.” So I find it interesting that a Gospel that is so short and not very detail oriented spends around 16 verses talking about the beheading of John the Baptist. People who say that the Bible is boring or confusing may need to read this story. It has everything that a good soap opera has: sex, adultery, lust, violence, imprisonment, power, and a party. Riveting stuff.
So, let me make sure we’re all clear on what is going on before we get too deep here because this story can be a bit confusing. There’s King Herod (his father was known as Herod the Great. So, good luck measuring up to that). King Herod married Herodias who was actually his brother Philip’s wife. Now, Herod’s daughter in this story is also referred to as Herodias. However, in other gospels, she is referred to as Salome. Then, of course, there’s John the Baptist. Do you know who is only mentioned in this story once? Jesus! But, John the Baptist is a disciple. He was on the outreach committee of Jesus’ posse.
Now, this story comes right after the text we heard last week. In last week’s text, Jesus sent the disciples out two by two to proclaim repentance, to cast out demons, and anoint those who were sick and cure them. Our scripture today picks right back up where we left off. “King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known.” King Herod had heard what the disciples had been doing. What Jesus had the disciples doing. John was sent out to encourage people to repent, King Herod included. Herod wasn’t really supposed to be married to Herodias. Philip wasn’t dead yet! Herodias didn’t like John and wanted to kill him. Herod feared John because John was righteous and holy. The plot thickens. Here’s what this story comes down to: power is one heck of an intoxicating drug.
John the Baptist wasn’t killed because Herodias asked for it. John the Baptist was killed because he represented a new kind of power. And that was a threat to Herod. He was power hungry. He would do anything to prove he had power and so he had John the Baptist killed. The crazy thing was is that John the Baptist didn’t have the same kind of power that Herod had. John the Baptist didn’t have money, or palaces, or armies, or servants. However, he did have Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit behind him. That made Herod fearful. And instead of trying to understand John the Baptist or Jesus’ message and the power of the Holy Spirit, Herod had him killed. This is the same reason that Jesus was killed. His version of power was somehow a threat to the Roman empire. They observed Jesus’ power of healing, feeding, and teaching and that was a threat to their piles of money, thousands of soldiers, and acres of land.
The quest for power wasn’t a problem just during the time when Jesus walked the earth. It continues to be a problem every single day. In fact, so many of the problems of this world come down to one central issue: power. The issue of illegal immigration is one of power. What if an immigrant comes into this country undocumented, takes my job, and takes my wages. That means they are taking my power. The issue of gun control is one of power. If you take away my guns, I won’t be able to protect myself or my family and you’re taking away my power. Our current administration, whether you like him or not, is very concerned about power. He speaks of the press the way he does, he speaks of other world leaders as he does, and he tweets as he does as a way of maintaining power. Power, my beloved, is one of the most intoxicating drugs in the world.
But Jesus wasn’t sent into this world to have the power of a dictating ruler like Caesar or Herod. Jesus came to turn the idea of power upside down. Jesus spent much of his ministry noticing the unnoticed and just by doing that, gave them power. When Jesus cured the hemorrhaging woman, he gave her the power to interact with society again. When Jesus met the woman at the well, he offered her forgiveness and reestablished her place in society and her power. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he showed that not even death had power any more. And for those in governmental power, that was a threat. If you can conquer death what kind of ruler are you? And those in power were scared and threatened. And when our power is threatened we do stupid illogical things.
What people didn’t realize is that the power that Jesus had wasn’t the power that the world was used to. His power actually benefited the powerless. Jesus wasn’t of any threat except to those who were afraid their power would be taken away. For those who didn’t have any power to begin with, Jesus was and still is good news. When we are brought to these waters and splashed with grace, just as Timothy will be today, we are washing away the powers of this world and replacing them with the powers that come from Christ alone. These powers that come from Christ give us the ability to see injustice, work towards reconciliation, fight for those on the margins, and be in service with and to one another. Most importantly, those waters allow us to be bathed in grace when we forget it’s all about Jesus and instead work for the powers being all about us.
I shared this with council last week, but it deserves to be said again. There is a rhythm to our worship. We gather, we heard the Word, we are fed with the meal, and then we are sent out into the world to share the good news. One of the last things we say before worship ends is one of the boldest and most daring proclamations we say all service. I usually say something like “go in peace to love and serve the Lord” or “Go in peace, Christ is with you” and you all say? (“Thanks be to God.”) When really, the world has us trained, maybe even encourages us to say instead “Go in power to love and serve yourself.” Or “go in power! You’re in this alone.” We know as Christians and as disciples that’s just not true. We also know that the powers this world gives and promises will always fail us. The powers given to us in baptism are the only ones that can sustain our lives. When you are able to use your Christ-given powers to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, then you are truly powerful. The powers of this world are nothing compared to the powers of Christ. Show me a power in this world that can defeat death. Show me a power in this world that can give hope to the hopeless. Show me a power in this world that can raise up the lowly and give status to the marginalized. There is nothing in this world that can compare to Christ. Because Christ’s love is the most powerful weapon on Earth. And that alone is enough to make others scared. So go out there, my beloved, and love the hell out of this world.