-Pastor Melissa Fain-
25 Hurrying back to the ruler, she made her request: “I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head on a plate, right this minute.” 26 Although the king was upset, because of his solemn pledge and his guests, he didn’t want to refuse her. 27 So he ordered a guard to bring John’s head. The guard went to the prison, cut off John’s head, 28 brought his head on a plate, and gave it to the young woman, and she gave it to her mother. 29 When John’s disciples heard what had happened, they came and took his dead body and laid it in a tomb.
Mark 6:14-29 CEB
Last Sunday I spent a decent amount of time using John’s beheading to say believing in Jesus doesn’t mean everything is going to be sunshine and roses for the rest of life on earth.
It’s not a fun or nice message, but it’s a needed one.
I also got so sidetracked by the difficult message, I forgot the one I was going to give: Having power and wealth does not equal that you have God’s grace and love.
When looking at the family of Herod, it’s clear how that statement may be true. There isn’t a flattering Biblical story about the family of Herod. It’s simply written- them bad and us good.
This is where it can become problematic for us.
US VS THEM
When the Bible is an “Us vs Them” reading, it is all wrong. I say this because we should be called to “something” when we are done reading. Lament. Action. Contemplation. Those are all things we can do. We have agency once the reading is done. We have no agency over “them.” When we leave smug, because there is nothing for us to do, because we put all the real work on the “other,” we’ve done nothing.
If we are just leaving angry because some evil rich family beheaded John the Baptist, then we are learning nothing. Some of the best Bible lessons are when we put ourselves in the villain’s place.
Here are some great questions to ask after reading this scripture:
These are both places where John was killed because of the actions of the family of Herod. Maybe not to the point of murder, but these are both places where good upstanding Christian people fail. I’ve seen some very Christian people falter under the impression that doing what was right was not the socially acceptable move, and choose the “socially acceptable” over what was right. I’ve also seen pettiness destroy good systems. For the old timers here, I’m recalling that time a group of church members literally cut playground equipment in half and took it with them- a real life Soloman’s baby.
HAVES VS HAVE NOTS
It’s really difficult for me to engage in this subject. And, before I really get into this, I’m well aware that every century comes with its own terrible story of the Church. It pains me to say this, but no group of Christians are without their drama. Here’s part of ours: Since the 90’s the church has played the part of an oppressed waif. As society separated from the Church, the American Church doubled down on their culture. Atheists became the terrible villain. If not atheists, then Saten. Anything to point the finger anywhere but at oneself.
This had a two-part effect. First, it kept American Christians from being introspective. It wasn’t their fault, but those soulless atheists, or Satan made them do it. Nothing is learned. Nothing is gained. Secondly, wow we became the villains! When you go around telling everyone else they are wrong, you begin to be wrong yourself.
All this had to be said first.
Just because you have the building, the offering, the people- doesn’t make you right.
Just because you have nothing- or you are losing everything- doesn’t make you right.
This is where my frustrations rise to a boiling point. In the 90’s when it appeared everything was going great. We were all blessed by God! God had taken our spoils and multiplied it. Now, as so many are now seeing we are actually bleeding out, we are blessed by God because God is with the oppressed. (Excuse me while I go find a bathroom and vomit.)
This all comes back to self-reflection. Modern American Christians just refuse to do it. Sure, they'll brainstorm solutions, and do faith retreats to try to understand God’s will, but will only go as far as it keeps them in the hero role. Once they have to consider how they are Pharisees or Herods they shut it down and move on.
If one of our own is actually the villain we bury, move and ignore. That’s the modern American Christian way! Only, it’s not the Christian way. There’s a reason we have these stories in the Bible. It’s not so we point the finger to someone else. The Bible exists so we can grow ourselves.
So, for God’s sake, let us be the villains. Maybe if we accept what we are, we can finally fix what’s wrong. That’s more important.