Lent Week 3—Wednesday
Psalm 82 Genesis 45:16-28 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 Mark 6:13-29
Mark 6:13-26 is a flashback to the martyrdom of John the Baptist. The chapter begins
(6:6-13) with Jesus’ mission to the twelve disciples, which leads into the story of John’s martyrdom. The disciples’ successful mission reassures us that God’s work continues, even in the face of the martyrdom of a good and faithful servant. This message was important to early Christians who were suffering great persecution and to us, too, because we’re often prone to thinking that tough times are a sign that God is uncaring. This story is part of a consistent message running through the lectionary for Lent.
The way of the disciple is harder than we think. (Jesus has told the disciples they don’t know what they’re asking for; are they prepared to suffer and even die?) The deaths of John and Jesus are warning that God does not always reward faithful discipleship with an easy life. The truth-teller’s road is bumpy and narrow and sometimes deadly. What this story says about Herod seems just as important as what it says about discipleship. My first thought was, I wonder what might have happened if Herod had followed his instincts and continued listening to John the Baptist? Hearing of Jesus’ ministry, Herod recalls John the Baptist, whom he’d had beheaded earlier (1:14). We’re told in the reading that Herod was kind of interested in what John was saying, but he was weak and afraid of losing what little power he had.
20”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.” John the Baptist gave meaning to the word courage in his unswerving commitment to his mission. Herod Antipas gave meaning to the word fear in his commitment to self-preservation.1
In our faith and in our lives, we are often more committed to self-preservation than to our mission as disciples of Christ. Mark’s reprise of John’s martyrdom reminded me of a hymn I learned as a child.
“Are ye able,” said the Master
“To be crucified with me?”
“Yea,” the sturdy dreamers answered,
“To the death we follow Thee.
Lord we are able. Our spirits are thine.
Remold them, make us like thee divine
Thy guiding radiance above us shall be
a beacon to God, to love and loyalty.
Am I able, like John, to commit to Jesus’ mission? Or am I, like Herod, too committed to self-preservation?
1 Amy Erickson, “The Downfall of Giving In To Fear” HuffPost (blog), December 6, 2017.