14 King Herod heard [that…] Jesus’ name had become known. Some were[b] saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
17 For 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[c] had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed;[d] and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias[e] 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.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately 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.” 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s[f] head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. ( Mark 6:14-29 NRSV)
I don’t want to read this text. It’s gory; it’s lusty; it’s filled with seduction and scandal and murder. Truth has spoken to power and look what it got him. Herod is holding on to power, but just barely. He hangs on for dear life to money, a beautiful wife, but most of all, power — a seductive idol.
We might as well turn on the television.
The invited guests remain silent. No one dares says, “No, Herod. What you’re doing is wrong.” They remain silent and stunned.
What he does is unspeakable. But, that’s what weak people do. They puff themselves up and blame others to make themselves look good. They grab and abuse power in order to gain more power. They demand loyalty and surround themselves with “yes people,” who agree with everything suggested, jockey for space to relate their version of the truth.
The silent hang on to their status at the expense of others.
Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. (https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007392)
Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Many of us could be included in the silent. We stay under the radar, understanding what we believe to be truthful but unable to speak out. We struggle to respect the views of those with whom we disagree. Our hearts break when we’re attacked with falsehoods.
In our attempt to be faithful, we use Jesus to prove our self-serving point. We rail silently at the false prophets. Our parents taught us to be nice. We refuse to be like those who refuse to listen to any but their own truth. Speaking out is dangerous and lonely. Look what it got John. Look what it got Jesus.
Jesus loved. Not out of weakness, but strength. He spoke truth to power. And the day the powers thought they had silenced him were the ultimate losers. Caesar and Pilate hung on to their power, but it was fleeting. Jesus’ victory is still speaking today.
2,000 years later, we continue to worship the same God who brought Jesus back to life.
2,000 years later, the history books tell us about those who rose to power only to fall. Wealth rules the day, but only for a short time.
While Herod and Herodias rule the day, God is present in twelve uneducated disciples.
While sex and money and power hold sway for too long, God rules in eternity.
While the arrogant speak out in hate and vitriol and pride, God’s quiet word speaks volumes.
I stand convicted. I’m the arrogant with the truth. I’m the prideful one trying to save my life and my status while I’m losing my soul. I want to silence some while I’m complicit with holy murder. I’m haunted and unsure what to do.
Jesus reminds us that, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:35 NRSV)
I’m convicted all over again.
It’s not about me. Or you. It’s about speaking truth to power. How do we do that? I have a couple of suggestions. But, be advised: they’re not easy. In fact, they’re downright difficult. But, I see no alternative.
First, remember that we are Beatitude People:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely[b] on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3-12 NRSV)
Blessed are you when your heart is broken when you see the elite mistreating others; when you see injustice supported; when hate takes the day.
Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for a world where everyone has enough to eat and justice is more important than power.
Blessed are you who mourn when you hear the false prophets.
Blessed are you, because Jesus’ heart is also breaking. He will show an even better way.
Second, pray. This is the hard part. I turn to the Archbishop Desmond Tutu for assistance:
During the days of apartheid, the Archbishop would pray daily for the government officials who were maintaining the oppressive system. He prayed for them to transform their hearts and to transform the racist system that they created, but he also prayed sincerely for their well-being. It helped him to love them rather than hate them, and ultimately made it possible to work with them to help transition the country to democracy. (“The Book of Joy” His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams [New York, Penguin Random House, 2016] page 259)
Jesus demands that we pray for our enemies and he modeled that ethos, even from the cross. It may be difficult, but only for a short time. Amazing results are waiting for you.
Pray for the false prophets. Pray for your complicity in the murder of the just and holy. Look for new ways of being that will speak loudly.
Find comfort in Christ who is present in the halls of power and Skid Row. Find comfort in Christ who brought us an even better way.
Find grace in the margins.
And keep on praying.
All glory and honor be to God.