Why does Mark interrupt his revelation of the divinity of Jesus to relate in detail the evil doings of the Herod clan? Because we need to be reminded of where sin starts and where it leads. Satan’s sin of pride is at the center of this evil web that morphs into lust and murder. Herod’s pride placed him above the law. He felt free to desire and to do anything he pleased. His wife Herodias is willing to kill to soothe her wounded pride. And so she corrupts her own daughter into a debauched instrument of revenge.
It sounds like just another episode of “Game of Thrones” or a dozen other sensational cable dramas. And that’s the problem. No matter how lurid, sin is becoming banal… an abstract, spectator sport until it turns around and devours us… individually and as a society.
This week’s gospel is one of the starkest expositions of evil in the entire New Testament. Today, despite daily reminders that evil exists, society has come to shroud it in elaborate scenarios of psychological cause and effect. Much of this theory is soundly reasoned, amply documented and clinically valid. But much of it has proven to be fantasy-based, psycho-babble. Today much theory remains a hybrid of both, limited by our still rudimentary understanding of genetics and brain chemistry. And just as our knowledge of the mechanics of Creation is still growing, so too is our understanding of evil. But over the centuries, the central premise is irrefutable: Evil is. It exists. It is toxic, invasive, ubiquitous and resilient. We are all carriers. And we are all victims.
Til the day we die, we are all host organisms to this blight. It manifests itself in sin, often disguised even from its host by layers of self-justification. What is satisfying to the sinner must be right. What inhibits gratification must be rejected. What exposes sin must be destroyed. And that is the fate of John the Baptist. Evil had thoroughly infected Herod and his whole family. They revel in it. John exposes their evil, both to the people and to themselves. He has to go.
In this, Herod adds hypocrisy to his other manifestations of evil. He does not hesitate to murder because John is blameless. He hesitates solely because John’s goodness is so famous that it will be hard to hide the crime. But in his advanced state of corruption, Herod’s decision is really a no-brainer. Go with gratification every time. Just keep the party going.
Doubtless, few of us will ever confront evil on this dramatic, up-close and personal scale. Yet in recent times the world has experienced the massive horror of the Holocaust and the sudden terror of 9/11. And all of that needed a point of ignition… a single, seemingly insignificant spark of evil that spread through a receptive combustible environment. Then suddenly we see that evil is not a distant abstraction confined to slasher movies and sensational headlines. It is an immediate and palpable reality. It even has a home address.
Satan lives and is dispensing evil worldwide, full-blast, 24/7. Despite this scriptural certainty, referencing Satan is not considered a good career move for preachers these days. Yet Jesus deliberately uses today’s Good News to warn us of this very bad news, even if that makes some of us squirm in the pews. We squirm because Satan has been so successful in spreading doubt that he even exists. That way he can put it about that there really are no sins, only differences of opinion. And in our pride, we buy it.
Our Redeemer knows that if we are to rejoice in the Lord, we must have a genuine understanding of the opposition… to know we are vulnerable… to know we are a target. But don’t take my word for it. By rough count the Bible refers to the Devil by various titles over two-hundred times. Scripture has increasingly been subject to wide ranging interpretation. But none has yet explained away this avalanche of Biblical reference to the author of evil.
This gospel gives us a window into rampant evil. But it rarely springs at us full grown. Rather it constantly probes for fertile ground, seeking voids to fill, probing for rough spots to gain a toe hold. Our prevention and our cure for evil are both the same… leave no room for Satan. Fill your day with the love of Christ. He taught us to pray for the Father to: Deliver us from evil. And he also taught us that we must do our part. We must fill the voids with love. Smooth the rough spots with prayer. Flush the filth with God’s forgiveness.
Start each day in the knowledge that we are God’s beloved. We don’t belong to the world. We are not Satan’s creatures. To keep it that way, make a mental checklist of your vulnerabilities. Examine your conscience. Acknowledge your sins. Ask for God’s forgiveness. Forgive yourself. Then forgive others as you would hope to be forgiven. Resolve to fill the day with the love of Christ. Then live his love. Share it. Spread it. Proclaim it. Rejoice in the Lord. Thank him for his saving grace. End your day the same way… reflecting, correcting, forgiving and thanking. Then get up and do it all again tomorrow… another good day closer to home… another day delivered from evil.
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.
Image: public domain The Feast of Herod, Spinello, 1385