2 Samuel 6:1-5,12b-19 Psalm 24 Ephesians 1:3-14 Mark 6:14-29
“Telling the truth”
What a deplorable story: John the Baptist’s head is served on a platter at Herod’s banquet, the finale of a promise fulfilled. It is difficult to find hope and good news in some of our gospel passages, and this is one of them. We are trying to find hope in a passage in which moral truth-telling results in jail and a gruesome death. Even though Herod protected John, albeit in prison, Herod chose to save his own honor in completion of his outrageous oath over saving John the Baptist’s life. Deplorable.
In death, John’s friends treat his body with honor and respect, shown to us by the description of John’s burial in a tomb. There is a measure of propriety, of grace, in those actions by John’s followers. The actions are also a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death. Just as John’s truth-telling to a person of power leads to his death, so, too will Jesus’ truth-telling lead to his trial, sentence, and crucifixion. Jesus, too, will be proper burial, a burial inconsonant with his death sentence. Our Lord is honored after his crucifixion.
Mark is showing us that there is sometimes a huge cost, or consequence, of discipleship. Here’s where we are in his gospel:
A couple of weeks ago we experienced the intercalation, Markan sandwich, of resurrection stories and healing. A twelve-year old girl was raised from the dead, but sandwiched in between that story is the woman cured of a hemorrhage that lasted twelve years. There is a plea for healing, to which Jesus responds. There is an unspoken grab at healing, to which Jesus responds through the garment that he wears. There is truth-telling. Jesus presses on. Jesus is mocked, laughed at. And a little girl gets up and walks. We are given hope for healing in this life and – or – in the next. We are resurrection people! Who find life, new life, through the healing power of Jesus.
This week we are in the middle of another Markan sandwich, but the story is not contained in one telling. Rather, we will start and complete it over several weeks. We began back here:
Jesus found himself “without honor” in his hometown. (How could he have come from heaven – he’s a carpenter’s kid!) Jesus did just a little bit of healing in that place. He sends his disciples out to do healing, giving them the healing power of God. The disciples, Jesus’ followers, go out in pairs, healing many. The intercalation is the sending out/sending forth … the sandwich will finish when the disciples come back and tell us what they have done. I’ll be sure to point that out when we get there. This sending forth and coming home is interrupted by this story of Herod Antipas and John the Baptist. It is out of place in its character – we were talking about healing, not killing – and it is out of place chronologically, for the whole thing is told as a flashback that Herod has. At this point in our gospel story John the Baptizer is already dead. (Does anyone else find these levels upon levels to be masterful, a bit confusing, and fascinating?)
We are being reigned in, told the truth that we will not always be successful. We may heal; we may do miracles in God’s name. Then again, we may be unwelcome. We may need to shake the dust off of our feet, a physical action in response to those who do not welcome us. We are called to be active in our faith, in our truth-telling, in our going forth. We are called not to get hung up on those who will not hear us, who reject us.
We are sent out, never alone …
And we are reminded that the world can be a deplorable place. Bad things happen to the best of people, and for the worst of reasons. Discipleship is not without its price.
The hope? Surely there must be some. There is. That “never alone” part is true. That friends will come forward and honor us is also true. That hope might not be found “right now!” – and we live in a right now kind of world, don’t we – is true. This week we are in that sending out place, waiting to come home and tell Jesus all that we have done. We will not all be “successful.” We will all be filled with God’s grace. We do all have the ability to shake the dust off of our feet, to walk forward with the love of Christ with us.
We have been sealed by the power of the Holy Spirit – remember? Our hope today is found, perhaps, through the words in Ephesians, Paul’s declaration of adoption and grace for everyone. Paul writes: “when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, [you] were marked with the promised seal of the Holy Spirit” … “this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.”
We have heard the word of truth, in small letters and in capital letters: truth, Truth, word, Word. We are not lost. We have not failed. We are traveling, still on a journey. We are seeing that sometimes, bad things happen. The Ephesians gives us this wonderful sense of being gathered up, which will happen not in chronological time, but in the fullness of time. We remember another place in which we hear those gathering up words:
Ancient words in a document called the Didache have imagery of being scattered like bread crumbs – the bread of Eucharist – and being gathered back together.
Our modern Eucharist echoes this idea if not the words in the Eucharist prayer to which you give assent today: “in the fullness of time, put all things in subjection under your Christ.” In the fullness of time … gather us up.
Gather us up, dear Lord; send us out, that the world might be healed. We will come home soon and tell you all about it. In the meantime, we give thanks for your grace, in honor found in the strangest of places, in friends, in shaking off the negative, in being gathered at your table and fed. We’re traveling, Lord, believing in your hope, waiting for the rest of the story.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.