Lectionary : Year B Proper 10 – 11th July 2021

♦ ♦ ♦  Mark 6 :  14 – 29  ♦ ♦ ♦

The Death of John the Baptist –

This passage is a departure from Mark’s usual narrative style; there is none of the breathy storytelling pace, full of ‘and then…immediately’. This is a longer story told in retrospect. It begins with Herod’s guilty conscience. Even the mention of Jesus’ amazing ministry immediately makes Herod think that John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. In Herod’s troubled mind, at least, there is no escape from John. What follows is a tortuous backstory of self-interest, violence and abuse. It is a clash of spiritual and temporal power. Herod is manipulated into an execution because Herodias is determined to destroy John. She no doubt wanted to eliminate the questions he was raising over her place within the royal household. She is utterly ruthless in making use of her own daughter to request John’s head. Herod comes across as weak and vacillating: he was indecisive when listening to John’s preaching; pig-headed when it came to keeping a rashly made vow. He comes across as the victim of his own whims and feelings, rather than someone who makes decisions based on principles or values. The role of Herodias’ daughter (traditionally known as Salome, from the account in Josephus) has sometimes been interpreted as that of a Mata Hari temptress, choosing to be part of her mother’s plot. It makes more sense to see her as an abused minor, the victim of her mother and her stepfather, who is also her uncle.

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