CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: Welcoming Transformation
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
- Mark 6:14-29
“John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
What a terrifying prospect for Herod.
He’s a king. He holds life and death in his hands. He employs people whose job it is, from time to time, to eliminate those Herod finds troublesome. He can even command these men to snuff out a human life for no reason other than to settle a debt of honor, as in this story. Herod has John the Baptist killed so he won’t lose face by denying his stepdaughter what he so rashly promised her in front of his dinner guests—themselves powerful men.
Herod’s guests know as well as he does that his power isn’t absolute. He rules only at the mercy of Rome, his country’s occupier, and part of his job is to keep the populace quiet. That’s why he had John the Baptist imprisoned in the first place, even though Mark tells us Herod knew John “was a righteous and holy man” and enjoyed listening to him. John had been asking troubling questions about the legitimacy of Herod’s marriage, questions that might undermine his claim to be a worthy ruler of the Jewish people and, not incidentally, threaten his wife Herodias’s cushy life. So John had to be locked up. And eventually, he had to be killed.
Herod’s need to hold onto power, his need to look strong, is John’s undoing.
But then the king receives word that a man named Jesus is on the move. He’s telling people that the kingdom of God had come near, inviting them to turn toward God’s loving power, and making that power visible by healing people and freeing them from demons. He has even shared some of his power and authority with his disciples, and sent them out on their own healing missions.
At this news, Herod’s fearful heart whispers, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
Herod is not literally correct. John is truly dead, his body resting in the tomb where his friends laid him, but still, Herod is onto something. The power and presence of God, which attracted Herod even as he tried to control it, hadn’t been limited to the Baptist. It will move wherever God sends it. And it’s spreading.
Before long, that resurrecting power will raise Jesus.
I wonder what Herod thought when he heard the rumor that Jesus’s tomb hadn’t held him. I wonder if he thought back to John the Baptist and reflected once again on the similarities between the two men. I wonder if the thought crossed his mind that God might be at work in all this. I wonder if he trembled, even a little, in fear for his own ultimate fate. He has taken responsibility for John’s killing—John “whom I beheaded,” he says, even though someone else wielded the ax—but only in private, to himself. We have no evidence Herod ever repented, ever turned toward the kingdom, so much more enduring than his own, that Jesus promised was already present on earth. We have no evidence that this petty ruler who squandered lives to hold onto power, position, and prestige ever made the leap from fearing resurrection, to hoping for it—not just when his earthly life was over, but in daily moments that offered him a chance to do, live, and be differently, right then and there.
Herod’s story is a reminder that every gospel promise has an invitation, even a warning, on the flip side.
The poor are blessed, especially beloved of God—so the rich might want to rethink our attachment to wealth.
God feeds the hungry, gives bread to people crossing the desert toward a new life—and invites people with extra bread to share it, to ease their neighbors’ journey.
God’s power raises a man whom the state killed although he never raised a finger to hurt anyone—so we might want to rethink our blind loyalty to any government, and reconsider what the right use of power looks like.
Resurrection is good news for everyone. But if we’re afraid that the new life God offers will threaten the worldly power to which we’ve become attached, it may sound like bad news.
That’s why you and I need what Herod doesn’t seem to have had, and what Jesus gave his disciples: a community of practice to struggle and strive, learn and grow together. A community that calls us to account for how we use our power, and helps us learn to use it better. A community, then, that won’t fear resurrection, but will welcome transformation.
Tags: Caminando with Jesus