“People Pleasing Can Kill You”Rev. Kirsten Hancock Mark 6:14-29 Year B: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 10
Henri Nouwen once observed religious leaders can mistakenly confuse good spiritual leadership with the ability to ‘control complex situations, confess emotions and anxious minds’ (Yust by Hall 239) Human nature drives us to want control over everything around us. Surrendering our will or moving away from pleasing others is a near impossible task for some of us. For those in positions of power, there is tremendous temptation to manipulate outcomes simply because one can, even if it is not the best outcome for everyone involved.
The story of John the Baptist’s beheading symbolizes a rise in the level of worldly conflict occurring because of Jesus’ earthly ministry. At the beginning of the passage, rumors abound throughout the kingdom that John the Baptist is dead. Report of John the Baptist’s death comes “right as Twelve begin their ministry.
Just as John’s arrest marked beginning of Jesus’ Ministry” (Williamson, Lamar. Mark, John Knox Press: Louisville, 1983; pages 3-4) At first, Herod thinks John the Baptist has come back to life. “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” NRSV Mark 6:11 Then we get the back story. “The rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey used to say in his radio clips.
The entire conflict with John the Baptist occurred because Herod took his brother Phillip’s wife. “For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him and put him in prison on account of Herodias (also known as Salome) his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her.” Mark 6:17 NRSV Herod is upset because John called him (Herod) on his stuff! “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Mark 6:18 NRSV
Herodias’ grudge against John the Baptist is so great that imprisonment is not enough, and she wants John the Baptist put to death. That is some serious anger and fury. However, she can’t kill John because” Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man and he protected him.” Mark 6:20 NRSV
Douglas John Hall notes that what makes the encounter of the prophet and the king so poignant is that they understand each other well enough. The puppet king knows enough about truth to recognize his own falseness; and the prophet is sufficiently acquainted with temptation to desire his monarch’s liberation from it. Their meeting could have been redemptive, but one great flaw prevented it: Herod’s insatiable quest for preeminence – having it, keeping it, flaunting it. (Hall, Douglas John. Feasting on the Word, John Knox Press, Louisville, 2009; p 240)
Aren’t we all kind of puppet kings? Humans are easily enticed to make decisions that will keep everyone happy or keep a person who nags us at bay. In Herod’s heart, he doesn’t want to mess with this man who has shown him the fear of the Lord. Herod imprisoned John for calling him out on his sinful relationship with his sister-in-law.
Yet, arrogance prevails, as it so often does in our lives. Mark 6:14-29 is the story of Herod succumbing to the manipulation of his step daughter/niece and wife. Herodias uses her seductive niece to get King Uncle Herod to give her John the Baptist’s head. We don’t know the age of the niece. I imagine she was rather young and beautiful from the context. This girl has no idea what to ask Uncle Herod for, so her mother uses this girl to ask for John the Baptist’s head.
Some of the best novels and short stories we read and discuss in literature are plots where we find a protagonist caught between good and evil, or making a decision that one will clearly regret in the future. These plots are what make many tragic operas, Shakespearean drama and movies like “The Godfather” timeless.
When pressed with life altering decisions, people often make the wrong decision based on love or loyalty to someone who doesn’t have their best interest at heart, like “Macbeth,” most episodes of “The Sopranos,” “Fargo” and plenty of other frustrating movies I have seen in my life.
In Herod, we see a leader who sets up a situation where something bad is bound to happen. There is a zealous woman involved, who feels threatened by someone calling her on her misguided actions and blatant disrespect of God’s Law. When we are out of fellowship or relationship with God, or when we try to take control of a situation doing things we think will make others happy, things can go very wrong.
After his niece requested John the Baptist’s head, Herod knew he had gone too far but had to honor the request. Herod did not have to go through with the request, yet he did. Was he going to be a man of his word or go with the silent conviction of his heart? “Yet out of regards for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.” Mark 6:26 NRSV
My Sunday School teachers never emphasized “the king was deeply grieved” Mark 6:26 NRSV All I remember is that Herod, seduced by a dancing girl, who happened to be his niece, granted the wish for John the Baptist’s beheading.
The picture of John’s head on a silver platter was probably an unnecessary graphic image I could have lived without as a child. Nevertheless, the king was grieved! Herod was upset about this decision. He knew what was up. He didn’t want to kill John in the first place because he recognized the Power of God through the actions of John.
Herod made a horrible decision messing with this man of God to begin with and the whole story, beginning with taking his brother’s wife, is about one bad decision after another after another. Later, Herod is one of the co-conspirator’s in Jesus’ conviction and crucifixion.
Somewhere along the way, Herod got so far off track, he could never get back on the track. In the beginning, he recognized the Power of God. In the end, Herod chose to ignore that Power. Perhaps after the beheading of John, he was already so far down the path that he could not turn back.
George Lucas repeats the good/evil scenario over and over in the “Star Wars” series. Most recently, in “Solo,” we see Kira’s inability to turn back once she has headed down the dark side. If only life was so easy to see as Jedi and the Sith. We all have light force and dark force within us. What we choose to do with it is up to us. When most of us who watch “Star Wars” watch “Star Wars”, we love the light sabers and the hope of good, the Resistance, winning. In real life, humanity doesn’t seem as sold on the Jedi mentality.
I can’t help but wonder how the story might have ended if Herod had a change of heart. What if he told Herodias to get out? Or recognized his own seduction by his niece and repented? What if he went back to the moment of seeing the power John wielded and embraced, instead of rejected that Power? How might the story have ended for John? For Jesus? For History? For Herod?
About the Writer:
Reverend Kirsten L. Hancock serves as Interim Associate Pastor of Faith Formation. Woodlands Baptist Church, San Antonio, Texas. A native of Guymon, Oklahoma, who grew up in Abilene, Texas is a graduate of Baylor University. She worked on several political campaigns before obtaining her M.Ed. in Gifted Education from Hardin-Simmons University, while teaching 8th grade U.S. History in Abilene, Texas.
Kirsten was a political organizer with state legislators and taught in DC Public Schools. She earned her M.Div. from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC and completed 5 units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Baptist Health System in San Antonio, Texas. Kirsten is a sustaining member of the Junior League of San Antonio and VP for Events for San Antonio Zeta Tau Alpha Alumni Group. She is the youngest daughter of Dr. Omer & Mrs. Judy Hancock of Abilene, Texas.
Scripture and Music:
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Jesus? What a Friend for Sinners (HYPRYDOL)
For Such a Time as This (MELITA)
How Great Is Our God?
Be Still, My Soul
At the Name of Jesus
How Can I Keep from Singing? (Carter or Davis)