The Pas Proper / Ordinary 15 – Pentecost + 8 – Trinity + 7
15 July 2018
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24 pg 732
when pride leads us deeper into sin,
grant us strength,
so that we may turn from pride
and know the power of your uncompromising love.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Today’s gospel shows us a spectrum of human emotion we don’t often look into or even, really, want to acknowledge. I’m talking about guilt, remorse, and a longing for forgiveness.
The King Herod, who we meet in today’s gospel, is the son of the King Herod who sought to use the Wise Men as his spies, who sought to curtail the Messiah’s reign and influence by increased military presence, arrests, and even by the slaughter of innocent children in Bethlehem.
That King Herod, knowing that he is a conquered king, a client king of the Roman Empire, did everything in his power to maintain his grasp on Israel, in spite of being a vassal, a subordinate ruler to Rome and to the Emperor, there.
In the newer movie “The Nativity Story,” released in 2006, we get a good picture of a king who, unsure of his power base, does what he feels is necessary to squash the people into subservience, and to show Rome that he is worthy of his position. Even protecting that position from those within his own family.
In today’s gospel we hear of two of the three sons of King Herod. Herod, who rules in Galilee, and we hear of Phillip whose wife, Herodias, is a focus for much of the trouble, the guilt, and the emotional turmoil, that Herod finds himself in, today.
And into this family portrait steps John the Baptist, prophet of God, and outspoken advocate of what is right, what is moral, and what is proper behaviour for all of God’s children, from the lowliest citizen to the highest bedroom in the nation – the kings.
And, really Herodias doesn’t like it one little bit. She doesn’t like this unkempt, sunburned man shouting under her palace windows telling the world that she’s committing adultery. That she has disgraced both her first and second husbands (if she even bothered to divorce one and marry the other, we’re never sure on this point). All we know is she saw a better opportunity for power and position in Galilee than on the east side of the Jordan River.
So, she cuckolds Herod Antipas into arresting the vocal and enthusiastic prophet of God, thinking that will be an end to this ongoing tirade of public embarrassment, and ridicule.
Once John is locked up, however, that doesn’t seem to be the end of it. Herod, recognizing a legitimate prophet of God, and recognizing the truth in his words, he visits John on a regular basis, and talks with him. Herod learns from him, confesses to him, and probably receives the encouragement he needs to make changes in his life, to become a better Israelite, a better model of propriety, a better king.
“18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.” (Mk 6:18-20)
So, John is still a threat to Herodias. She’s jealous of the time Herod spends in the cells talking to this supposed madman. She’s angry of his criticism of her and her lifestyle of sleeping to the top of the influential food chain. She feels her power slipping away.
At the same time, Herod is probably avoiding her bed, and praying, offering sacrifice, and observing religious functions more than she’d like.
And then comes her chance.
Herod throws a birthday party, and who doesn’t like to celebrate on their birthday?
She encourages her daughter to dance for Herod, for his guests, for all those who are lounging around tables, who are drunk, and not capable of making good decisions because of the alcohol and the excellent food.
“22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.
The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”” (Mk 6:22-23)
Now, we can see that this girl’s being tutored by her mother in the skills of social climbing.
So, she goes to her mother to find out what to ask for. After all, Herod, inflamed by emotion, alcohol, and food, has promised her anything her heart desires, up to half of his kingdom.
And Herodias sends her back with one single request: “25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother.” (Mk 6:25-28)
And the gospel tells us that Herod “was greatly distressed.”
He had made rash promises in the depths of his alcohol induced state, and now he is forced to behead a man who is nothing more than a prophet of God. A man who Herod has come to respect, and whose opinion he has sought out in recent months.
So, here we are. Here we find ourselves at the root of Herods grief.
At the source of his sense of remorse, his guilt at finding himself in a position to be the cause of John’s death, and to feel the blood on his hands, even today.
Today’s gospel opens with the words: “14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” … 16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”” (Mk 6:14, 16)
We can see that guilt, remorse, and grief are some of the most powerful, most self-consuming emotions out there.
And I’m not saying we can’t regret something, but this is where God, who loves us and wants to be a part of our lives, gives us the rite of confession. God gives us the availability of forgiveness, and the ability to lay those burdens on God and to seek forgiveness for our actions, for those burdens that we strive to leave at God’s feet, yet, it feels like we continue to carry them with us throughout our lives.
From what we can see, what we can deduce, Herod doesn’t seem to do any of that, and there are those, still today, who follow Herod’s route of self-recrimination instead of seeking God’s forgiveness in confession and absolution.
Instead, he wallows in his grief, in his remorse, in his inability to separate his public personal from his private life. Yes, he’s heard of Jesus. And we se this play out in the passion, when Pilate, seeking to forestall any decisions, made for him by the temple authorities, to crucify Jesus, sends him to Herod for judging as a citizen of the province of Galilee.
“7 When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.
8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. … 11 Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate.” (Lk 23:7-8, 11)
The movie “Jesus Christ Superstar” (1973) plays this up, beautifully in Herod’s Song.
Imagine all of Herod’s guilt, remorse, depression, and self-turned anger being focused on Jesus; on the one person, who is able to alleviate Herod’s guilt. There’s a great song Herod sings demanding a miracle, a sign from Jesus: anything from turning water into wine, to walking across his swimming pool.
Herod, it seems, finds an outlet for his self-hatred and grief in Jesus, in that moment. And I’m sure remorse plays a lot into that as well, because Luke’s gospel tell us: “12 That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies,” because neither Herod nor Pilate find claim enough to sentence Jesus to crucifixion, to death on the cross. (Lk 23:12)
But in that moment, in that audience, Jesus, who bears all of our sin to the cross, yours, mine, Pilate’s, Herod’s, the Chief Priests, the teachers of the law and the scribes, the soldiers, absolutely everyone’s, he takes on the burden of Herod’s guilt, and he carries his cross to Golgotha.
In that moment, years of guilt, years of self-blame and criticism is alleviated in Jesus death on the cross and rising again from the dead. And this is the same for you, and for me.
In the rite of confession and forgiveness, we are able to tell God absolutely everything. In fact, there is nothing we could tell God, that would be a shock.
Today, we are able to see the source of Herod’s guilt. His insecurity at being tetrarch, of having his brother’s wife in his bed, of being duped by his step-daughter, and of being responsible for the death of John the Baptist.
In all of this today, we fail to see any assignment of blame from anyone, other than Herod, whose guilt is so intertwined with John’s death that he probably hasn’t had a glass of wine since that fateful day.
At the same time, we are able to see the balm of God’s forgiveness, in the end, when Herod faces the bound, beaten, silent Jesus, who, preparing for God’s conclusion, endures the baseless accusations, the ridicule, the abuse, and, in the end the cross.
Not for any other reason than because this is the only way God is able to alleviate all our sins, all of Herod’s sins, all of Herodias’ sins, and even the daughters.
We are the ones who trap ourselves in an endless spiral of sin and guilt.
Jesus, God provides us with a way out of that self-made maze, that trap, that downward spiral. And that answer is found in the cross. It’s found in the empty tomb.
It’s found in the rite of Confession and Absolution, where we have the opportunity to, each one of us, lay our burdens down, stand up straight, in our hearts, and in our lives, and receive God’s love, God’s forgiveness, and God’s reconciliation in return.
Not just today, but every day of our lives. Always.