6 Pentecost proper B10
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 6:14-29 Sermon
July 12, 2009
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
160 "Praise My Soul The King Of Heaven"
250 "O God Of Light, Thy Word A Lamp Unfailing"
503 "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross"
578 "Softly And Tenderly Jesus Is Calling"
REVENGE IS EVERYBODY'S NASTY LITTLE SECRET
TEXT (vs. 17-20): "For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, 'It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.' So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him."
This morning, I want you to ponder a few things for a moment. Think about the way you felt the last time someone wronged you or did something bad to you. I'm sure you can come up with something. I know it doesn't take too much for me to think of some instances in my life where this has happened.
For example, think about the last time some idiot driver cut you off or irritated you. Perhaps you were patiently waiting for somebody to pull out of a parking place in a crowded car park, only to have somebody just drive up and pull into the place right in front of you, knowing full well that you had been patiently waiting for that spot.
I remember a television situation comedy show some time back, which I think might have been "Malcolm in the Middle" where this very thing happened. A woman was waiting patiently for a parking spot when another woman barged right in and stole it away from her. The scene that followed was this first woman backing up and driving full-force into the car that had stolen her place. And then the battle really erupted. The two women continued to ram each other's cars in true demolition derby style until they were driving nothing more than twisted hunks of metal. The situation was of course humorous, but there was still a great deal of truth in it as well.
I have to admit that there have been those times when I have wished that I was driving down the road in a Sherman tank. Then just watch what would happen to the next idiot driver that pulled a stupid stunt. It's not that I would want to hurt or injure somebody; I'd just like to seriously mess up their car. That would teach them.
That's just one type of situation. I can think of other times when people have been unfairly cruel or judgmental toward me, where I've thought to myself, "Now, what could I do to get them back? How could I teach them a lesson? How could I send them a clear message that they messed with the wrong person?"
This is me we're talking about. And I'm not talking hypothetically either. I've really and truly had those thoughts and desires in my life, more times than I care to admit. Now I haven't actually gone out and sought revenge in all the ways I've thought about, but I've sure given it some thought. And the more my anger seethes inside of me, the more creative I can become with my brand of recompense. And that's one of my nasty little secrets.
But you know what? Everybody, and I do mean everybody has that same nasty little secret in their own lives. I believe that with such a degree of certainty, that if somebody were to tell me that they never had experienced those feelings, I would flat out say they were lying.
Contrary to the old saying, revenge is never sweet. Oh it may give a person a certain amount of satisfaction at the time, but it's never productive, and it only leads to more misery for everybody concerned.
In our Gospel lesson for this morning, we see what is probably a case of revenge at its worst. We have before us the account of the horrible death of John the Baptist, and how one woman's revenge caused the whole mess. One woman became so bitter and angry that she exploded like a simmering volcano. And John the Baptist was her victim.
Let's take a look at this section of Mark's Gospel, and how it fits in with everything else. The chapter begins with Jesus preaching in his home town, and the people rejecting him. Then Jesus sends out the twelve disciples to go and preach to the towns in the area. And as the disciples went, Jesus had empowered them to perform various miracles. This gave their message authenticity and validity.
Now word of their miraculous deeds gets back to King Herod Antipas. The rumor was being spread that John the Baptist had come back to life, and was showing his divine credentials by not only coming back from the dead, but also by performing various other miracles as well. Of course we know that wasn't the case.
It's here where Herod is having sort of a flashback as to how he had killed John the Baptist. Both Matthew and Mark record this incident, but Mark is the Gospel writer that gives the most detail.
When we examine this account, it reads something like a Biblical soap opera. Besides John the Baptist, there are three main characters in the story: Herod Antipas who is the king, Herodious his de-facto wife, and Salome, the daughter of Herodious. Her name Salome comes from secular history, and is not in the Biblical account. I say this because we cannot confuse her with another Salome who is mentioned in the Bible, who accompanied Mary and the other women to Jesus' tomb on Easter morning.
Now that we know the characters, let's look at the story line. John we know is a rather ruddy and earthy character. He also didn't mince any words when it came to speaking what needed to be said. And he said what he needed to without any regard to whom he was speaking.
And so John charges head-on right for Herod and really takes him to task. As far as society was concerned in that day, that really wasn't a smart move to make. John literally touched government, and he did so without regard for his own life and safety. He let the chips fall where they may.
Herod was in a very scandalous relationship. Even the Gentiles in the public knew what Herod was doing was wrong. Here is what one commentator says:
"All that seems to be left us is to assume that the flagrant sin of Herod was castigated by John in the course of his preaching repentance and thus came to the ears of Herod and his illegal wife. It was evidently [Herodias] who instigated John's arrest. Herod's crime was a public outrage. The woman had first married her own father's brother [Philip], and then ran away and lived with the half-brother of her husband, who was also her half-uncle who already had a legal wife. Two marriages were disrupted, and the new union [with Herod] was not a marriage. It was plain adultery." (Lenski)
That was definitely a scandal, and it was one that had been instigated by Herodious. So when John began to witness to the truth and point out how detestable this behavior was, Herodious began to seethe with anger. And the longer it went on, the madder she got. She wanted John dead. She wanted revenge. She wanted to silence him for good. She figured like so many people do, that if the messenger is removed, then the message will eventually die out too. Of course she couldn't have been more wrong.
But there was one major hitch in all of this, and that was Herod himself. Now Herod wasn't a particularly strong-willed individual, but he was still the man in charge. Herod actually liked John. He was fascinated by him. John spoke with so much authority and depth, that he had actually gained the respect of the King. And so even though it was probably Herodius that had him arrested and thrown into jail, Herod protected him. He wanted to keep him around.
This added even more fuel to Herodious' fire. She would have perpetually nagged Herod about John, but he was still the man in charge, and so he was able to provide for his safety. But Herodious continued to connive away, looking for just the right opportunity to get rid of John.
That opportunity came the night of Herod's birthday party. Herod had been consuming a great deal of alcohol, so he was pretty wasted. He was right where Herodius wanted him. So she sent her daughter Salome to do a very seductive and erotic dance for him--one that would definitely get at least an X rating in today's society.
After it was all over, Herod in his drunken state was very aroused and burning with lust. And as we know, people in such a state have the propensity to say stupid things and make horrible decisions. Anyway, Herod offers Salome anything she wants, even half of his entire kingdom.
Wow! Just think of it! She could be one of the richest most powerful people there was, equal in power and wealth to her step-father Herod.
Her mind was swimming. She was a young girl, probably in her late teens. She didn't know what to do with this generous offer. So she goes and asks her mother's advice as to what she should ask for. And Herodius, full of spite and anger and revenge tells her to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
Now how crazy is that? Who in their right mind would give up so much potential, just to have a bloody severed head presented to them on a platter? It would be like someone trading a winning Powerball ticket for someone's severed body part. It's totally nuts!
But revenge does that to people. Listen to the words God caused to be recorded by the Apostle John in chapter 3 his first epistle. Verse 12 reads, "Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous." And continuing on in verse 15, "Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him."
The Bible makes it perfectly clear that hatred and murder are inseparably connected. Our Gospel lesson for today is a hard-hitting example of that. When hatred takes root in a person's heart, then it continues to grow and build. It becomes all-consuming, like it did for Herodius. She lived and breathed hatred for John, and also for Herod her husband for protecting him. And just like the illustration of Cain and Abel that John the Apostle used, Herodius had John killed because he was righteous, and she wasn't.
In our society today, we see a lot of the same stuff going on. Hatred and revenge are going strong, for sure. And we see so many people lash out and condemn those who witness the truth of God's Word. When we take a stand and say things like: "Homosexual marriage is wrong," or "Abortion is wrong," among other things, we are condemned for it. According to society, we are being "politically incorrect." People who stand up for a Christian principle are often treated with disdain, anger, and hatred.
But when we look inside our own hearts, we have to admit that we have taken a Herodius type attitude more often than we'd like to admit. I know that I have. Thoughts of revenge and "getting even" can take control so easily that it's almost scary.
But then we look at Jesus. Jesus experienced more hatred and rejection than anybody else. The Pharisees seethed in anger, looking for reasons to put him to death. But Jesus took that hatred upon himself, and willingly gave his life to pay the price for not only that sin, but every sin of every human being. And when Jesus experienced the hatred and revenge of his enemies, he spoke these words as he was hanging on the cross, recorded in Luke chapter 23 verse 34: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
Every time we give in to that nasty little secret of ours and burn in anger, we have the assurance that Jesus cools that anger and calms the unrest in our souls. Instead of seeing our adversaries and dreaming of revenge, we need to see the cross of Christ and the forgiveness he won for us there. He died at the hands of his enemies and suffered the punishment we deserve. But through faith in him alone, we are washed clean of all our sins, and we can see all of the hate and spite and anger and revenge just fall away from us like so many scales.
This morning, I'm going to close with some tremendous words of advice in this matter recorded by the Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans, chapter 12, verses 16-21:
"Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord. On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."