Between the words that are spoken and the words that are heard, may there be peace.
Have you ever been to a Panto? A pantomime? It’s a very English kind of theatre where there is always a young woman in the hands of a dastardly villain, not to mention a handsome hero and lots of cross-dressing! In our Gospel this evening, we are brought into the court one of the dastardly villains of the Christian texts; Herod. Like the audience in a pantomime, we really should all boo and hiss when we hear his name in these texts. Let’s try it! Herod… Boo! Hiss!
The murder of John the Baptist, at the behest of Herod’s wife, daughter and the gathered guests is a terrible crime. And as awful as our Herod (Boo! Hiss!) is, I want to suggest that we might look on him with some compassion, and even understanding. He is after all, as so many of the biblical characters are, reflections of us.
Here is the line I am intrigued by this week:
“The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.” (Mark 6:26)
How often have you found yourself having to choose between fitting in with expectations and going your own way? Choosing the way of the crowd, or choosing the “right” way? How often have you chosen to go along with the crowd, rather than “making waves?”
I believe that a strand in the complex details of this story, is about the choices we all must make sometimes. As much as this is a story that foreshadows the crucifixion of Jesus (Both John and Jesus die unjust deaths, and Pilate too will succumb to the will of the crowd), it is also a distinct, small morality play in and of itself. Rather than booing each time we hear Herod’s name, as tempting as that may be, let’s all imagine we’re Herod. You’ve got yourself into a situation where you make a commitment publicly, and the consequence is far from what you expected, even terrible. Perhaps, you married someone, a public commitment, and then you found yourself falling in love with someone else, someone your friends and family likely won’t accept? Or, the organization you are a manager in, you have committed to, you are part of the in-group, and you learn that there will be layoffs coming next week. Your friend is on the list and your boss hands a confidentiality agreement for you to sign. Perhaps you are part of a religious group, you’ve made a commitment to them and to their values, and all your friends and family are members. What if they say or do something to you that hurts you to your core? You have to choose between what the group you belong to expects, and what you need to do to be true to yourself. Leaving the group means leaving all your friends and connections.
Herod is in this position. He has made a commitment. To have said no to Herodias’s awful request would have been at great cost to himself. It would have perhaps even cost him his kingdom, or even his own life, not to mention his reputation and power.
So, putting yourself in Herod’s shoes, what would you do? We know what happens in Marks’ Gospel, but if you were Herod, what would you have done? I invite you to turn to your neighbour, and spend a few moments reflecting with each other. (It is ok to pass, and if your neighbour wants to sit quietly on their own, let them, and turn to another neighbour.) If you were Herod, given all the pressure on him, what would you have done?
Time for dialogue…
In closing, we as a species need to belong, we need to be connected to our group. That is absolutely vital for our survival as individuals. And, sometimes the group is headed in the wrong direction. Sometimes we need to stand up and challenge. Sometimes we need to make a different choice than the group demands. Even, and especially when, making a stand involves great cost.
And that is exactly what we are asked to do as Christians. We are asked to take the hard road. The difficult road of making the right decisions; decisions that are courageous, compassionate, authentic and vulnerable. And God knows how awful and difficult those decisions are, and God knows that sometimes we make choices like Herod. You and I are human, just like Herod. We sometimes make the wrong decision. And while we may boo and hiss, God loves us, even when we’re Herods.