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Thoughts on this Sunday's Gospel Reading: Two Men Who Speak Truth to Power

When the dates were set for the Brady’s vacation, I gave Pastor Mark a bad time. I had looked up the lectionary readings and I said, “I know why you want to have your vacation now, who wants to preach about the beheading of John the Baptist?” it is so much easier and much less messy, to preach about the feeding of the 5,000 with only five loaves and two fishes (the Gospel reading for the Sunday Pastor Mark returns.) We laughed, and I set about trying to discover why such a gruesome story should be in the Bible (not that there aren’t others) and why it should be in the lectionary and take up such a large part of Mark’s Gospel.


Why, in the short Gospel of Mark, did he give so much space, time, and detail to the story of the beheading of John the Baptist? Mark wasn’t paid by the word like Herman Melville or Charles Dickens. Why take up space talking about John rather than Jesus? Especially when he was on a role with all of Jesus’ miracles, and preaching. It seems out of place. Except, that in this story, Mark was talking about Jesus. These two individuals, Jesus and John, were intertwined since before their births, although we have no way of knowing if either of them was aware of that fact, as no specific mention is made of their childhoods. John’s story is crucial, a foreshadowing, for our understanding of who Jesus is.


John is the messenger. In the guise of an old-world Prophet, he proclaims what is to come, and challenges the people to prepare: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” He also, as did the Prophets of the Old Testament, speaks truth to power and challenges the behavior, intentions, and morality of those in authority. And like those old Prophets, he comes to a harsh end for doing so. For speaking truth to power, John is thrown in prison. He is not worried; he knows that Jesus has the power to free him—so he waits… and waits… and waits. But Jesus doesn’t come. Oops, maybe his information is faulty, maybe Jesus is not the Messiah. So, he sends a messenger to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” What John might well be thinking is: “Listen, do you even care that I’m perishing? Or are you simply not the one who can do anything about it? Are you not the one I thought you were?


Jesus gets the question from John’s disciples and says, “Go tell John what you hear and see. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, people are cured of leprosy, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” When they come back and tell John that, how do you think that made John feel?


Multiple Choice: A. Oh, I feel better. B. What about me?


John had his answer, and he did not fall away. But he did die.


Jesus also spoke truth to power. Like John, he challenged the actions and moral thinking of the leaders of the time both religious and political. Jesus too was arrested and imprisoned. He was tried and savagely killed. He did not fall away from his message of God’s love. And he died. But Jesus rose again. John and Jesus-- so similar. Both speak power to truth—a call to change of heart and action. The message of God’s Love for all. Both die but only one rises after death to walk and talk with his followers. Only one’s resurrection shows that we are loved so completely by God that through Jesus, we too will live in the Kingdom of God. John announced the coming—and told who Jesus was, but Jesus’ actions and words proved his identity.

In Mark, chapter Eight, we read: Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’

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