Just occasionally, with the emphasis on just, reading one of the Biblical stories is a bit like living in reality TV-land but more uncomfortable.
Reading Bible stories can be fun and exciting. Hey, who wants TV fiction then? Just get out a copy of the Gospels and get stuck into reading that.
Let’s take today’s Gospel Reading as a case in point. Reading about Herod the Tetrarch, for example, makes me think straightaway of that one-time President of the US of A, Richard Nixon.
Tricky Dicky was a master of manipulation and political intrigue, yes? So blinded was he to the vortex of ambition that he was prepared to sacrifice his principles to give himself an advantage over others, just like Herod.
On the goodies side, there are remarkable similarities between John the Baptist and Martin Luther King, Jr, Oscar Romero, Mary MacKillop, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer; real life leaders who were willing to tell the truth about corruption and the misuse of power, whatever the cost.
Let me not let the ladies off the hook, either. Herodias is just like those female characters who, black widow-like, exterminate their lovers or friends on grounds of self-protection and build themselves a platform of power. Remember Roberta Williams?
Even if it is true that Herodias was intent on protecting her own children, which I doubt if what she allowed her daughter to do is any indication, we might be challenged ourselves to contemplate the lengths we would go to protect our own offspring.
One thing’s for sure about this Reading and that is that Mark has a very specific purpose in telling the story. It’s the only scene in the Gospel, I think, where Jesus does not play any part. So, it’s important. Why?
The first thing to note is this: the proclamation of the Kingdom has significant implications, and I just don’t mean political ones. The status quo is always under threat when we live out our life as Christians.
As David Lose says, ‘our all too easy acquiescence with the cultural presumption that might … is right’ is severely compromised here. The proclamation of God’s kingdom principles is a costly business.
Even more challenging is the possibility that, when we stand up against George St or Canberra or whatever your Parliament’s address is, there will be some collateral damage and we might find ourselves on the wrong end of a baton, or worse.
Mark is telling us this, partly, because he’s describing the world in which he lives but, by extension, he is warning those of us in future generations about the implications of doing and saying the right thing.
Is that it, you ask? Is this all there is or are we yet to squeeze the Gospel orange a little more, at least enough to extract the Good News from this passage?
Maybe that’s the point, that John’s beheading by Herod and family isn’t the end of the story, it isn’t the whole enchilada, that there is more?
Truth is that there is something more than the intrigue, the heartache, the tragedies; of Herod, of Nixon, and of our penchant for the status quo.
Isn’t the heart of the Gospel the belief and teaching that Jesus came to make it possible for us to have something more than mere survival, more than simply success?
Didn’t he come to help us imagine – and enter into – something more than just living, that there is something called ‘the abundant life’ which can be ours? Isn’t that a better ending than many of us seem to expect?
When our Temple has been destroyed, or our marriage is on its last legs, or we’ve just been made redundant, or we’ve just found out that our best friend has cheated on us, then the possibility of another, good, ending has immense appeal.
That’s not just good news. It’s got to be better news any day than anything we can imagine or construct ourselves.