Seventh Sunday after Trinity 15th July 2018
Introduction and Call to Worship
Through Christ, our heavenly Father calls us to repentance and to stand before God in honesty, with open hearts. In that spirit, let us come together in worship, praise and thanksgiving.
First Reading Amos 7:7-15
Amos prophesies against Jeroboam the king of Israel, and is betrayed to the king by Amaziah the priest of Bethel.
Or 2 Samuel 6:1-5. 12b-19
David leads the Israelite people as they accompany the ark of the Lord to its new resting place.
Second Reading Ephesians 1:3-14
God destined us for adoption through Christ, in whom we have redemption.
Gospel Mark 6:14-29
Having had John the Baptist put to death, Herod hears about the work Jesus is doing, and starts to fear that John has been raised from the dead.
“John the baptiser has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.”
There is a famous and wonderfully comic sequence in Fantasia, Walt Disney’s brilliant film from 1940. It begins with a sorcerer conjuring a beautiful butterfly out of his cauldron, while his apprentice, Mickey Mouse, draws endless pails of water. When the sorcerer takes a break, Mickey is quick to take advantage. Donning the sorcerer’s magic hat, he casts a spell on a broom and directs it to fetch and carry the pails of water. Pleased at his own ingenuity, Mickey sits back and puts his feet up. It goes well, until he realises that he doesn’t know how to stop the broom. He panics as the water level begins to rise, eventually chopping the broom into pieces. For a moment everything goes quiet and Mickey breathes a sigh of relief. But his relief turns to horror as he watches the pieces of the broom come back to life, reconstitute themselves and resume fetching water. Order is finally restored when the sorcerer returns and Mickey is rewarded with a smart kick up the backside.
In today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel we find a troubled and guilty Herod, agitated by reports of the healing and teaching that Jesus is doing in the towns and villages. Some claim that John the Baptist has been raised from the dead; others that Elijah or one of the Old Testament prophets has returned. But Herod has no doubts: “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
Through the rest of the passage we discover, in flashback, the events leading up to this point. John’s criticism of Herod and his marital arrangements led to Herod imprisoning the prophet. But Herod was in awe of John, “knowing that he was a righteous and holy man… he protected him.”
Everything unravelled when Herod’s daughter danced at his birthday banquet and he rashly promised to give her whatever she wanted. When, at the urging of her vindictive mother, the girl demanded John’s head on a plate, Herod’s cowardice and unwillingness to lose face in front of his guests compelled him to comply with their wishes.
In this troubling story both Herod and John the Baptist found themselves in dilemmas. Both, in different ways, were put on the spot. For John it is the knowledge that challenging Herod and Herodias would almost certainly put his own life in danger, while for Herod the challenge was to be prepared to lose face in front of his guests. John of course rose to the challenge and paid with his life. Herod did not, and the cost for him was a gnawing sense of guilt.
It’s easy enough to condemn Herod, with his craven submission to Herodias’ cruel demands and his fear of losing face before his guests. But perhaps our judgement sits a little less easily if we put ourselves in his situation. How would we react if we knew that by saying what we know is right we might be putting our life in danger – like John – or risking contempt and ridicule – like Herod? Might we not at least be tempted to fudge it – to take the easy option that we hope will upset no one and leave us unscathed, with our dignity intact?
Mickey Mouse’s comic cartoon antics might seem light years away from the situation in which Herod finds himself. Both tried to find the easy way out of a situation and, in so doing, unleashed a force beyond their control. Herod knew that he had betrayed John, and discovered that decisions we take for self-serving reasons – particularly if someone else suffers as a result – don’t leave us unscathed, but can end up costing us dearly.
Elsewhere in the Gospels (Luke 12:3), Jesus warns the crowds about the Pharisees’ hypocrisy, by saying: “what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops”. Our words and actions do carry consequences, which will come back to haunt us.
1. In Fantasia, Mickey Mouse thinks he has found a way out of his drudgery by casting a spell over a broom. But it backfires when he is unable to stop it.
2. In Mark’s Gospel Herod is troubled to hear of Jesus healing and teaching, fearing John the Baptist has risen from the dead.
3. In flashback we learn that Herod imprisoned John, despite knowing that he was a holy man. Then, unwilling to lose face before his guests, he ordered John’s death.
4. We may condemn Herod, but how often do we take the easy way out, “fudge” the truth, or do something simply to avoid losing face?
5. John rose to the challenge in doing and saying the right thing, whereas Herod did not. John paid with his life, and Herod paid with a gnawing sense of guilt. Our words and actions carry consequences.
Original text: ‘Living Word’ for Common Worship, Redemptorist Publications 2018.