Signpost for Sunday 8 July, 2018: 2 Sam 6:1-5,12b-19; Ps 24; Eph 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29.
There’s a stunning juxtaposition in Mark that I don’t think we’ll notice if we just listen or read it the way lection asks us to. Herod organises a feast. Jesus organises two ‘feasts’ shortly afterwards – the feeding of the 5,000 (Mark 6:34-44) and the feeding of the 4,000 (Mark 8:1-10).
Herod’s banquet is for the upper-crust elite. Jesus’s picnics are for the crowds. The highlight of Herod’s feast pleases one person – she who asks for the head of John the Baptist on a plate. Jesus’s picnics please thousands of people – everyone gets something to eat.
But what had Herod actually done to anger John the Baptist. We 21st century people think we know. He married his brother’s wife. That’s no big deal by today’s standards, some of us might even be thinking.
Good old Josephus tells us the historical truth and reveals it was a little more complicated than that: While on a trip to Rome, Herod Antipas (the one in our story) stayed with his half-brother, Herod, and had an affair with Herod’s wife, Herodias. Herod Antipas then divorced his own wife, and married Herodias. But his new wife, Herodias, was actually his niece.
We know that John the Baptist objected to Antipas marrying his brother’s wife. That is highly likely to be because of Leviticus 18:16: “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness.” We don’t actually know whether he knew, or even objected to the fact, that Herod Antipas married his own niece.
Meanwhile, what about the other readings to think about this week? I thought about them and this is what I’ve been thinking.
In one church I worshiped at they started a youth band and asked the band to provide the music for all the services once a month. Some members of the congregation got very upset and said their music was a cacophony. Our brilliant vicar answered the complaints by quoting this verse, “David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, tumbrels, sistrums and cymbals” (2 Samuel 6:5).
Psalm 24 is a beautiful hymn of praise. If you are stuck for a prayer, use this. Sometimes I find prayer really difficult. I’m not sure how to pray, how to speak to God. One way out of that problem for me is to use the many words others have written as prayers and psalms. I say one of them and trust that God will hear whatever else it is I really want to say. For me it’s better than not praying at all; I’ve tried that and I don’t like it.