Thu, 7 February 2019
(Heb.13:1-8; Ps.27:1,3,5,8-9; Mk.6:14-29)
“I will never desert you, nor will I forsake you.”
A series of parallels we have today between our first reading and our gospel. Paul instructs us in his letter to the Hebrews not to “neglect to show hospitality” to our “fellow Christians,” since we may be “entertain[ing] angels” thereby; but it is not angels Herod entertains at his birthday banquet, and a false sense of hospitality leads him to grave sin, as when Herodias’ daughter requests the Baptist’s head on a platter, “because of his oath and the presence of his guests,” he “dispatch[es] an executioner.”
Paul also tells us to “be mindful of prisoners as if [we] were sharing their imprisonment”; and it seems almost against himself Herod indeed sympathizes with John. We are told, “When he heard him speak he was very much disturbed; yet he felt the attraction of his words.” He knows John is the angel he should better entertain, but denies the voice speaking to his heart. And so Paul’s warning, “You may yet suffer as they do,” proves true with Herod, who is clearly imprisoned by his own fear that John has been raised from the dead to haunt his soul.
Of course, the central cause of all Herod’s problems is his breaking the command Paul expresses distinctly: “Let marriage be honored in every way and the marriage bed be kept undefiled,” for it is “on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married,” that John chastises Herod, that the king has the prophet imprisoned, and that he is cornered into murdering him. And so now he knows very deeply the extent to which “God will judge fornicators and adulterers.” Indeed, his adulterous relationship and his niece/daughter’s dance of lust stand as examples comparable to the profligate lands of Sodom and Gomorrah for their immorality, for their opposition to the Father’s love.
It is the Father’s love and our trust therein which rises above the immorality and violence so present in our gospel. At the heart of Paul’s letter is his paraphrase of today’s psalm: “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid; what can man do to me?” Indeed the faith in God David sings of so confidently – “Though an army encamp against me… though war be waged upon me, even then will I trust” – is what the Baptist holds in his own spirit, even as he extends his neck for the executioner’s blade. He knows well that the Lord “will hide [him] in His abode in the day of trouble,” and so no trouble does his death cause him: the Lord will certainly “set [him] high upon a rock,” keeping him untouched by the lust and destruction which surround him in Herod’s dank prison. It is Herod upon whom darkness shall fall.
“Your presence, O Lord, I seek. Hide not your face from me.” Through all things let me remain in your light. And as John’s life ended, this greatest of “leaders who spoke the word of God” to us, so let my own, in faith in you, O Lord, who are with us forever.
O LORD, though thrown in prison or put to death,
still you protect us;
in purity in your presence let us dwell.
YHWH, O what fate awaits those who feed their lust, who wallow in the wickedness of this world! Theirs is a punishment far worse than death, for never will their fear come to an end.
But those who love you and their brothers, LORD, those who have pity on souls most in need, these are shielded by you in the day of trouble and shall rise to be with you in the end.
Your children are persecuted on this earth, O LORD our God. They walk in the footsteps of your Son. But despite the war that is waged upon them, despite the threat of death itself, those who trust in you are not shaken. But those who sit upon the thrones of sin, those who give free reign to their passion and greed – these do but fat themselves for the day of slaughter, when the dance of lust shall be long past.
Let us serve you in our brothers, LORD. Let us share in the pains of those oppressed and keep ever to your way, and you will keep us from all harm to sit with John and Jesus on the last day.