Speaking Truth To Power
Few of us want to hear a hard truth, and perhaps fewer of us want to be the ones called to deliver one. Today’s texts remind us that bearing God’s word is risky business. King Jereboam exiles the prophet Amos for calling him to account. Herod delivers John the baptizer’s head on a platter to his wife, Herodias, to fulfill a promise he never should have made. Speaking truth to power can cost us our lives.
Yet this is exactly what God calls us to do. God’s prophets are ordinary people called to deliver an extraordinary message. Listen to the praise Paul heaps on the Ephesians, naming them as God’s blessed, God’s chosen, and God’s adopted children (Eph. 1:3-5). It is the kind of pep talk coaches give their players just before sending them back into the game against a seemingly unbeatable team. Like Amos, who freely confesses his humble background and unlikely credentials, we are sent from worship each week to proclaim God’s in-breaking reign to all the powers that profess to rule this world.
Still, beneath the apparent victory of power over truth, there is a hidden story bursting through the seams of this tale. Yes, John the Baptist dies, but the integrity of his witness outshines all of Herod’s corrupt court intrigues. Herod himself was drawn to John’s preaching, and in the end it is Herod’s character that seems most tragic.
Like Herod, we are each challenged to really listen to the challenging voice of God in our day and age, and to turn away from the lures and temptations that attempt to seduce us away from fidelity to God. Through us, God speaks words of peace, love, and faithfulness that challenge the world’s violence, hatred, and treachery.
As Jesus and his disciples begin to attract attention, Mark recalls the story of John the Baptist’s martyrdom. Like John, Jesus and his disciples will also suffer at the hands of those opposed to the gospel of salvation.
14King Herod heard of [the disciples’ preaching,] for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
17For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.– Mark 6:14-29