What’s tragic is if Herod went to his grave with all of his violence and stupidity and sin on his conscience never once knowing that he and his illegal wife and her child Salome and John the Baptist are all beloved children of God. What’s tragic about Herod is how different he is from the prostitutes and demoniacs and tax collectors and Pharisees and centurians we meet in the Gospels. They encounter Jesus Christ and are freed from the bondage of their past. In the presence of Christ they are given a glimpse of God’s bigger story of love and mercy and are shown who they really truly are in the eyes of a loving God and they are made new. The story of who they are is given a new ending and a new meaning. But Herod was trapped in his own story and it feels to me like it’s a story that tortured him and one that he felt there was no escape from.
When our own little stories begin to feel self-contained and inescapable, that’s when things are tragic. Maybe on some level you feel that way. Trapped. Unable to change the story of who you are. Unable to change your behavior or attitude or outlook. So caught up in the events around you, so caught up in the identity you’ve had so long that it clings to you like a skin suit.
And if that’s true and you were hoping to hear some good news today I need to be the first to tell you -
There is no good news in this story. I looked for it. But maybe that might actually be the point. Maybe we are supposed to notice that this is the only story in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus isn’t mentioned. There is no Jesus. So if this story stood alone, there would be only sedition and sin and violence and bondage and political maneuvering and incest. The only thing that makes this story good is that it’s not the end of the story. One of the most Gospel-y things I’ve heard in a long time was that great line from the movie the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in which a character says that they have a saying in India that in the end all will be well. If all is not well, it is not yet the end.
So while there is no good news in this story, while there is no Jesus in this story, what’s amazing is that the story of Herod’s birthday is immediately followed by the feeding of the 5,000. The Godless Black Mass of Herod’s party is immediately followed by another party, a Eucharistic one in which there is no exploitation of children, or killing of prophets. There is only Jesus, and thousands of people sitting on the green grass and a few loaves and a couple fish and all are fed by what seemed like not enough and there was still baskets or loaves and fishes left over to share. They were living a new story. A story written by a God who desires that all are fed and all are loved and none are exploited and desires it so much that God offers us a reminder of this every week right here at this table. This table is the antidote to whatever version of Herod’s birthday party is playing out in our own lives and in the world around us. You aren’t trapped. God’s still writing the story and it’s so much better than one we’d come up with and thanks be to God for that.
- Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, “Sermon on Salome, Herod, and the Beheading of John the Baptist”
Sermon on Salome, Herod, and the Beheading of John the Baptist