Musing on Mark 6, 14 to 29

One question comes to mind when we read this passage – why did Mark, who is very selective in what he writes in his short Gospel, want to find space for this story? Why do you think it is important. What does he want us to learn from it?

Herod Antipas, one of the 3 sons of Herod the Great (of ‘killing Bethlehem babies’ fame) was ‘king’, aka in charge, of the Roman administrative region of Galilee. He’d married his brother Philips ex-wife, Herodias, and John the Baptist had called him out on it in his preaching sessions in the wilderness (see Lev.18:15-16). Antipas couldn’t have his name disrespected like that so he had John arrested and brought to Machaerus, his hilltop fortress, presumably to ‘deal with him’. But then Antipas found that he liked listening to John. What he said coupled with his righteousness and holiness perplexed Antipas. Now I suspect that it was Herodias scheming for power that engineered her divorce and remarriage, and to have the man who could evidently see through her regularly debating with her husband must have really got up her nose. Eventually, however, the opportunity to get rid of John came along.

Antipas threw a banquet for his officials and the people of influence in his region and as part of the entertainment his step daughter Salome danced for the guests. Salome was not the nubile young woman performing the dance of then 7 veils as portrayed in movies. She is described as korasion which means a young girl, not quite of marriageable age (the same description as for Jairus daughter).

To show off his generosity, and as a reward for pleasing her step father and his guests, and probably under the influence of too much drink,  Antipas promises he’ll reward her with whatever she wants. He’s probably thinking in monetary terms, but whatever she wants it’ll be no hardship really as it will all be kept in the family. He didn’t reckon with Herodias scheming though and his showing off and rash promise ended in sadness and guilt as he’s forced to behead John. In a contrast to Herodias manipulation read the story of Esther.

(Later Herodias scheming to try and take control of more of Israel ended badly when they went to the Emperor to try and achieve this, only to be out-schemed by a rival falsely accusing them of plotting with an enemy. They ended up living poverty in France – I imagine Herodias blamed Antipas and made his life a misery!)

Antipas guilt at executing John was such that when he heard the rumours spreading through his territory of a wonderful new prophet (perhaps the result of the ministry of the disciples sent out by Jesus that we read about last week?) he thought it was John come back to haunt him.

If Antipas had paid attention to the scriptures (and not got drunk?) he might have heeded the stories about making rash promises – look up Judges 11, 29-end.

Have you ever made promises you regret? ( I hope you haven’t made any ‘if England win I’ll……’ promises!)

We may not think we’re show-offs, but actually we can do so almost subconsciously through the way we dress or the car we choose, or the family achievements we share. It’s part of wanting people to think well of us.

Have you ever regretted boasting? Look up what Paul said about it (eg Galatians 6:14 or 1 Cor. 1:31).

Perhaps we should change the way we think about our blessings. Instead of thanking God for ‘being blessed with….’ We should adopt the traditional Jewish habit of blessing God for everything with prayers starting with ‘Blessed is he…..’ . For instance these are from the Mishnah – when we first open our eyes in the morning say: ‘Blessed is he who gives sight to the blind’; when we get dressed say: ‘Blessed is he who clothes the naked.’ It puts the emphasis on God not the ‘thing’. Is that too subtle? Try making up your own ‘ Blessed is he…’ prayers.