Sex, violence and the royals.

Signpost for Sunday 12th July 2015 – 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

It’s the stuff to sell magazines, not what one expects to find in the hallowed pages of the New Testament. Yet here in Mark’s Gospel we have all three, and they’re about as scandalous as it’s possible to be. Imagine yourself at the scene (a serious contemplative discipline that is actually quite easy to perform in this instance by us who can draw on big budget movies rather than our own imagination). We have an insecure yet ambitious king, a beautiful but evil queen, a lovely nubile young girl, a drunken royal birthday party, a rash and instantly regretted kingly oath and the solemn tread of the executioner to the dungeons where the great, holy man of God sits unaware that the moment which he has no doubt been expecting has arrived. I can almost understand the emotions up to this point, but what oh what must have been going through the minds of the protagonists during the inevitable period of time between the issuing of the King’s order and the moment when John’s head is brought in on a platter (the daughter’s refinement of her mother’s suggestion) as the final dish of the birthday banquet? Herod, we know, hated John, but recognised him as a righteous man whom he enjoyed listening to and of whom he was somewhat in awe. For him the thought of what he had just done may well have spoiled the party. We can assume from v.16 that he subsequently had nightmares. Herodias, on the other hand, seems to be a woman of dynamic sexual power (and her daughter is following in mother’s footsteps). Was she exulting in what she had achieved?

This particular contemplative discipline has not proved particularly rewarding, dwelling as it does on sins of lust, jealousy, revenge, guilt, murder, on and on it goes, grand passions that pass most of us by. At a much lower level, I discovered or remembered that this is the only passage in Mark that does not have Jesus as the main character.

According to Mark, the step-daughter’s name was also Herodias (v.22). Salome, the name that has come down into the language, is not biblical, but given to us by the Jewish historian Josephus.

There is a link backwards to the First Testament story of King Ahasuerus and Esther, where wine and banqueting give rise to excessive promises; and a link forwards to Henry VIII and one of this week’s Saints, Thomas More, where condemnation of an unlawful marriage results in decapitation.

As for the Samuel reading – that linen ephod was no doubt ritualistic, but is that all David was wearing? Michal’s reaction would indicate so. Whether or no,it led to a huge quarrel and probably a marriage break-up with the result that a child who might have united the royal houses of Saul and David was never born.



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