The Naked Man – pt. 46

st-john-the-forerunner-icon-croppedMark continued his account of John’s imprisonment. “Now a strategic day came when Herod gave a banquet on his birthday for his lords and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee; and when the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests; and the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you.’ And he swore an oath to her, ‘Whatever you ask of me, I will give it to you; up to half of my kingdom.’”

“That must have been some dance,” Yiftach commented. “Indeed,” Mark said. “Although I’m sure they were more impressed by the fact that it was Herodias’s daughter than they were by her performance.” “Perhaps,” responded Yiftach, “but that’s about as big an oath as Herod could make. He was clearly very…impressed.” Adina spoke up. “I’m surprised he managed to say anything, what with his tongue hanging out as far as it no doubt was. Well, did she ask for half his kingdom?”

“No,” Mark responded. “She went out and said to her mother, ‘What shall I ask for?’ And, without hesitation, Herodias said, ‘The head of John the Baptist.’ Immediately she came in a hurry to the king and asked, saying, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’” Adina pulled a face as she said, “That’s disgusting.” Yiftach nodded in agreement as he said, “And some pretty dark humor, given the setting. I bet her request sobered Herod up pretty quickly! What did he do?”

Mark continued. “Although the king was very sorry, yet because of his oaths and because of his dinner guests, he was unwilling to refuse her. Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded him to bring back John’s head. And he went and had him beheaded in the prison, and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother.”

“So,” Yiftach responded, “he takes John’s head to save face in front of all his powerful friends. Because his drunken oath is more important than a man’s life.” “Well,” said Mark, “at least, this man’s life. But clearly what he had done weighed heavy on his mind, because, remember, when he heard about Jesus, Herod’s first thought was, ‘John, who I beheaded, has risen!’ It seems Herod may have regretted killing G_d’s prophet, and feared G_d’s judgment for doing so. Certainly, when Aretas of Nabatea invaded Herod’s tetrarchy a few years later to avenge the dishonoring of his daughter when Herod married Philip’s wife, the stinging defeat Aretas’ and Philip’s forces inflicted on Herod was seen by many as G_d’s judgment for his killing John.”

“What did John’s followers do when word got out about his death?” asked Yiftach. Mark answered, “When his disciples heard about this, they came and took away his body and laid it in a tomb.” “As would eventually happen to Jesus,” said Miryam. Attention in the courtyard shifted to the diminutive figure in her customary chair. “Just as with John, Jesus would also be arrested, imprisoned and then killed. Not as a result of a conspiracy between an angry mother and her daughter, but a conspiracy between powerful men in the Temple and the Roman state.” She sighed. “And just as John’s death foreshadowed Jesus’ death, insofar as his disciples inherited the same mission – to preach repentance and the coming of the Kingdom of G_d – their ever-present reality was that they might inherit the same fate. And wherever gatherings like this one proclaim that same message and refuse to accept the narratives of the powerful, we risk sharing the fate of both.”

Heaviness fell over the ecclesia. Mark rose to his feet once more and spoke. “There are indeed other gatherings like this throughout the Empire where ordinary people like you and I risk much because they belong to the Way. And some have indeed shared in the suffering of John and of Jesus.” He paused, as well-known and beloved faces came to mind. Then his voice rang out across the courtyard. “But they are willing to do so because they believe what Herod feared: that G_d’s prophet has risen from the dead. And while we, too, may one day share in their suffering, we, too, will share in the resurrection. May we go forth from this place tonight in that sure hope…”

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