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Speaking to the Soul: Saving Face

Speaking to the Soul: Saving Face

Week of Epiphany 3, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]


Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 119:49-72 (morning) // 49, [53] (evening)

Isaiah 49:1-12

Galatians 2:11-21

Mark 6:13-29

One of the greatest temptations we face is the temptation to save our public image instead of following our truest selves. Our Scriptures today give us two examples of men whose nerve failed them in critical moments. Neither Peter nor King Herod withstood the temptation to project a false image of themselves rather than following their deeper and better instincts.

Peter (called “Cephas”) gave in to the separatist expectations of a particularly conservative faction of early Jewish Christians. Today’s second reading tells us that Peter, himself a Jewish Christian, used to eat freely with Gentiles. However, when a more exacting group of Christians led by James arrived, Peter “drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction.” James’ followers believed that Jewish Christians should still follow dietary laws that would prohibit their eating with Gentiles, and Peter chose to conform to their rigorous standards rather than continue in fellowship with a broader Christian community.

King Herod also put public appearances ahead of his spiritual inclinations. Today’s gospel tells us that Herod feared John the Baptist, “and yet he liked to listen to him.” But Herod deprived himself of further opportunities to learn from this perplexing prophet and mysterious teacher. Herod rashly promised, in front of many dinner guests, to give his stepdaughter whatever she wished. When she requested John’s head on a platter, Herod was “deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.” Rather than take back his oath in front of company, Herod ordered John’s beheading.

What do we do when the stirrings in our soul ask us to compromise our cultural standards, go back on our own word, or embarrass ourselves in front of other people? Do we scramble to save face, or do we face up to our circumstances with humility and courage? Reflecting on the examples of Peter and Herod, we might as well brace ourselves for this temptation, whether it confronts us today or at some other crucial juncture in our lives.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal.  She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps  program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.


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