Mark 6:1-29 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
6 Jesus left and returned to his hometown with his disciples. 2 The next Sabbath he taught in the Jewish meeting place. Many of the people who heard him were amazed and asked, “How can he do all this? Where did he get such wisdom and the power to work these miracles? 3 Isn’t he the carpenter, the son of Mary? Aren’t James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon his brothers? Don’t his sisters still live here in our town?” The people were very unhappy because of what he was doing.
4 But Jesus said, “Prophets are honored by everyone, except the people of their hometown and their relatives and their own family.” 5 Jesus could not work any miracles there, except to heal a few sick people by placing his hands on them. 6 He was surprised that the people did not have any faith.
Jesus taught in all the neighboring villages. 7 Then he called together his twelve apostles and sent them out two by two with power over evil spirits. 8 He told them, “You may take along a walking stick. But don’t carry food or a traveling bag or any money. 9 It’s all right to wear sandals, but don’t take along a change of clothes. 10 When you are welcomed into a home, stay there until you leave that town. 11 If any place won’t welcome you or listen to your message, leave and shake the dust from your feet as a warning to them.”
12 The apostles left and started telling everyone to turn to God. 13 They forced out many demons and healed a lot of sick people by putting olive oil on them.
14 Jesus became so well-known that Herod the ruler heard about him. Some people thought he was John the Baptist, who had come back to life with the power to work miracles. 15 Others thought he was Elijah or some other prophet who had lived long ago. 16 But when Herod heard about Jesus, he said, “This must be John! I had his head cut off, and now he has come back to life.”
17-18 Herod had earlier married Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. But John had told him, “It isn’t right for you to take your brother’s wife!” So, in order to please Herodias, Herod arrested John and put him in prison.
19 Herodias had a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she could not do it 20 because Herod was afraid of John and protected him. He knew that John was a good and holy man. Even though Herod was confused by what John said, he was glad to listen to him. And he often did.
21 Finally, Herodias got her chance when Herod gave a great birthday celebration for himself and invited his officials, his army officers, and the leaders of Galilee. 22 The daughter of Herodias came in and danced for Herod and his guests. She pleased them so much that Herod said, “Ask for anything, and it’s yours! 23 I swear that I will give you as much as half of my kingdom, if you want it.”
24 The girl left and asked her mother, “What do you think I should ask for?”
Her mother answered, “The head of John the Baptist!”
25 The girl hurried back and told Herod, “Right now on a platter I want the head of John the Baptist!”
26 The king was very sorry for what he had said. But he did not want to break the promise he had made in front of his guests. 27 At once he ordered a guard to cut off John’s head there in prison. 28 The guard put the head on a platter and took it to the girl. Then she gave it to her mother.
29 When John’s followers learned that he had been killed, they took his body and put it in a tomb.
I have always loved to read. I can still name my favorite books from childhood—-Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham, The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and all the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
One of my favorite authors these days is Frederich Buechner. Everyday I receive in my email an excerpt from one of his books. I like him so much because he has a delightful sense of humor and is not afraid to exaggerate or to use his imagination.
So, today, I’m going to share with you his piece about Herod Antipas and Salome. You’ve heard the Biblical version; here is Buechner’s version:
ONE OF THE LESS OFFENSIVE ACTS of Herod Antipas was to walk off with his brother’s wife, Herodias—at least there may have been something like love in it—but it was against the law, and since John the Baptist was a stickler for legalities, he gave Herod a hard time over it. Needless to say, this didn’t endear him to Herodias, who urged her husband to make short work of him. Herod said he’d be only too pleased to oblige her, but unfortunately John was a strong man with a strong following, and it might lead to unpleasantness.
Then one day he threw himself a birthday party, possibly because he couldn’t locate anybody who felt like throwing it for him, and one of the guests was Herodias’s daughter from her former marriage. Her name was Salome, and she was both Herod’s step-daughter and his niece. As it happened, she was also a whiz at dancing. Sometime during the evening she ripped off a little number that so tickled Herod that, carried away by the general hilarity of the occasion as he was, he told her he’d give her anything she wanted up to and including half of his kingdom. Since she already had everything a girl could want and was apparently not eager for all the headaches that taking over half the kingdom would undoubtedly involve, she went out and told her mother, Herodias, to advise her what she ought to ask for.
It didn’t take Herodias twenty seconds to tell her. “The head of John,” she snapped out, so that’s what Salome went back and told Herod, adding only that she would prefer to have it served on a platter. No sooner was it brought to her than she got rid of it like a hot potato by handing it over to her mother. It’s not hard to see why.
Salome disappears from history at that point, and you can only hope that she took the platter with her to remind her that she should be careful where she danced that particular dance in the future, and that she should never ask her mother’s advice again about anything, and that even when you cut a saint’s head off, that doesn’t mean you’ve heard the last of him by a long shot.
-Originally published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words
We know from other scriptures that John was quite popular in the area, but he was not popular with Herod and Herodias. Herodias demanded that Herod get rid of John. According to Buechner’s version, Herod “said he’d be only too pleased to oblige her, but unfortunately John was a strong man with a strong following, and it might lead to unpleasantness.”
This is a story of courage and fear. John has the courage to call out the sins of Herod. Herod fears John’s words. Who wins? John ends up dead. Herod ends up with a vindicated wife. John ends up silent; Herod ends up doing whatever he pleases.
The television networks have been obsessed with courage and fear. They do not call it by those names, but that is what they have been watching. The battle between courage and fear is often based on truth. Who is afraid of the truth? Who is not afraid of the truth? Who is afraid of the consequences of telling the truth? Who will do anything to suppress the truth?
People who have great power are under tremendous pressure from every side. Even their own security is threatened. Like us, they are subject to personal pride, and the need to excel. Likewise they are pressured by peers, by the very people who support them and by the ambition of their colleagues. It is hard to resist when one’s own reputation and livelihood are at stake.
Herod had a reputation to protect. John punctured that reputation. It is easy for us to applaud John for calling out Herod. However, John was calling out everyone. Herod was not the only one who needed to repent.
The purpose of our confession every Sunday morning is to call us out. That petition in the Lord’s prayer, Forgive us our sins is not just a random guess but a calling out of our own sinfulness.
How do we handle the challenges placed before us? How do we handle the opportunity to tell the truth when it means we will be threatened, that our family will be mocked, when it causes us to lose some of our power or protection?
A few years later, Herod was only too happy to execute John’s cousin, Jesus. Again, the truth hurt. The truth threatened. Herod joined forces with Pilate to destroy Jesus. And it helped Herod’s shaky reputation immensely; he became one of Pilate’s favorite flunkies.
John the Baptist gave meaning to the word courage in his unswerving commitment to his mission of truth and promise. Herod Antipas gave meaning to the word fear in his commitment to self-preservation.
So, all we have to do is confess our sins and be forgiven, right? Not necessarily. According to one commentary I read, the Good News is threaded with bad news. Dr. Emerson B. Powery reminds us that “one thing is certain: agents of God who challenge those in power usually suffer significant consequences.”
Martin Luther. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Martin Luther King, Jr. Exiled. Imprisoned. Persecuted. Executed. Adam Schiff. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. Marie Yovanovitch. Gordon Sondland. Draw your own conclusions.
This is the only story in Mark that doesn’t include Jesus. It is a dance between, ultimately, John and Herod. But we also have to dance that dance: the steps so confusing and so hard to remember that we often end up in the arms of the wrong partner.
The easy part: we can skip going to the dance. Or we can tell ourselves we’ll switch partners later, when it’s safe. I like to think that no matter who I’m loyal to on earth, Jesus is always loyal to me and will forgive my selfishness and fear and welcome me with open arms. But is that how Jesus expects me to follow him? In his arms, bravely executing the intricate steps of love and compassion and courage, or do I just save him for the last dance, hoping he’ll be the one to take me home? Amen.
- Huffpost, Amy Erickson, Contributor Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Iliff School of Theology Mark 6:14-29: The Downfall of Giving Into Fear
07/11/2012 07:58 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017
- Working Preacher, Emerson Powery Professor of Biblical Studies Messiah College Grantham, PA July 15, 2012.