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  • Writer's pictureJohn Bryant

Mark 6:14-29: A Gospel That Ruins the Pacts We've Made with Ourselves

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus name had become known. Some[c] said, “John the Baptist[d] has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He 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 it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.

21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias's daughter 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 to you.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John's[e] head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Perhaps one of the most haunting passages of scripture, that King Herod’s heart was touched by the Word.

Herod heard the Word, and it puzzled him, perplexed him. It was the undoing , the dismantling of life as he had understood it.

And yet it made him glad. A word that gave joy and gladness. A Word that made him pay attention. Herod was listening.

Herod was a man who heard about God and it made him confused and joyful. Is this not what it’s like to hear the Gospel? A Word whose power to set free is also its power to cast down? A Word that makes us boy glad and confused?

That sets those in bondage free, even as it reveals that they are in bondage?

A Word that we are learning to hear, even as it dismantles our way of seeing? A Word that Herod was learning to hear?

But there was something else, another word that had been spoken. A promise Herod had made to someone.

It says in scripture Herod beheaded John the Baptist because of promises he’d made to others. But the implication is clear: Herod did it because of promises he’d made to himself. He wanted to save face. He was committed to being seen a certain way.

I think of those two words, the gospel that confuses and gladdens and the promises I’ve made to myself.

Perhaps the gospel ruins the pacts we made with ourselves. And with that, shatters our maps, our ways of being in the world. Leaves us without coordinates. So that we can continue to puzzle and struggle and be glad.

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