15th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
15 July 2018
We all know them ... others around us, family, friends ... or, perhaps, “them” is us.
People for whom, chaos is part of their entourage.
Wherever they go, whatever they do ... like Charlie Brown’s “Pigpen” trailing a cloud of dust, so they ... or maybe, we ... enter in, carry on, and leave ... with nothing but problems, uproar, disquiet, panic, and DRAMA.
And ... like Pigpen, the dust of their, or perhaps our own, life-chaos swirls around and sticks to everyone and everything who, which has the unfortunate circumstance of being there with them, with us.
The chaos-bringer’s problems become everyone’s problems. Their uproar, everyone’s uproar ... disquiet ... panic ... and DRAMA. OH, the DRAMA!!!
So what do you do ... assuming you’re not the chaos-bringer, but only an innocent bystander ... what do you do when you’re faced with the chaos-storm bearing down on you?
Well, there’s two approaches into which we usually fall.
Sometimes, the chaos is successful in its quest to stir up more and more chaos, more and more drama, and we feel like we’re helplessly sucked into it. High panicked voices, potty-mouth cursing, uncontrollable dramatic sobbing and so on breed more of the same in an epidemic ... either of our merging right into the maelstrom of melodrama ... or, our actively trying to fight it off. Surrender ... or emotional confrontation. They can sound the same, from a distance. All the voices are raised, all the eyes drip tears.
Then there’s the other approach ... detach and disengage. Ignore the drama and the dramatist, the chaos-maker, the chaos-waker ... perhaps offer some benign words of consolation ... there there, it’s going to be OK... and run away as fast as possible. Who needs their life-garbage anyway? I’m busy and have enough going on in my own life ... I don’t want to be bothered.
And yet ... neither of those are a faithful approach for the ones who are called to follow Jesus. As we continue our Ordinary Time -green-season instruction-rich walk through these early chapters of Mark’s gospel, this week we once again find ourselves faced with words, a story, on what it means to be Biblical Live-rs ... faithful disciples of Jesus … however, this time, it’s not through a story about Jesus and his disciples, but rather, the One Who Came Before ... John the Baptist.
First, though, we have to encounter another chaos-bringer. It’s Herod ... not the King Herod who is mentioned in the Christmas story ... but instead, his son, Herod Antipas, who after his father’s death ruled under Caesar a quarter of Herod the Great’s kingdom.
The text starts today with Herod having heard of “it” ... and it was everything we’ve also heard about in the past few weeks ... the beginning of Jesus’ ministry of sending out others in his name, that four-fold path of discipleship learning and building we discussed last week:
· I do, you watch;
· I do, you help;
· You do, I help;
· You do, I watch.
Jesus had sent out his disciples to do his work in his name, and doubtless having twelve Jesus-followers out and about increased the chatter in Herod’s kingdom about Jesus. And so Herod, just like everyone else, was trying to figure out just who this Jesus was.
But the clouds from his chaos-trail obscured the truth for him. Herod thought that it was John the Baptist at work again.
Herod’s chaos-trail is laid out clearly in this text we have before us today. He – Herod Antipas – had divorced his first wife – that was a politically expedient marriage, for he’d married the daughter of a neighboring king ... Herod Antipas has divorced his first wife and remarried the divorced wife of his own brother Herod Philip ... kind of a first century version of wife swap. Drama drama drama! From other historical sources we know that the neighboring king whose daughter Herod Antipas had married ... for political expediency ... and then divorced ... that king was in an uproar... understandably so. We don’t know for sure, but most likely Herod Philip was in an uproar too ... his wife, and daughter, gone from him and now part of his brother’s household.
That wife, Herodias ... she most certainly aided and abetted the chaos and drama in this story ... as it says, she
...had a grudge against (John) and wanted to kill him.
But Herod didn’t. Herod actually listened to John, and protected him.
NOT out of respect and honor ... that old fashioned sense of the word “fear,” like being in awe of someone ... no, the word Mark uses here is the one meaning plain-old shaking in the boots being scared. Herod was scared of who John was, the Word he carried, the God (and that God’s consequences) of whom, of which John spoke.
And yet ... and yet ... despite all of that ... the chaos-train flowing behind Herod ended up swallowing Herod whole. Herod had too much to drink at a banquet ... he watched his stepdaughter dance before him (we can only guess what kind of a dance it was ... how her mother put her up to it ... how she – Herodias - knew what Herod would say, and do, as a result) ... Herod got trapped in his own honor-and-shame trap ... to keep his word meant honor, to break it meant shame ... and John lost his head.
But there’s more to say here about John. John, for his part, when he encountered Herod’s chaos ... John took the third way. When faced with the chaos-train Herod and his family and his entourage were dragging in after them, John did not disengage and turn a blind eye, nor did he get sucked into the anxiety, either by actively combating it or fighting to resist.
John just, simply, told Herod, “King, this isn’t right.”
This isn’t right. Perhaps that’s what we’ve also been saying to ourselves, in this strange way to spend this Sunday morning, hearing a story like this. Blood and guts before brunch. There’s a panel, a piece of medieval art in the Art Institute in Chicago, which graphically depicts this whole story. Even the bright colors and the way painters painted the human figure 800 years ago is not entertaining enough to remove the horror of this story from us.
So why is this story part of Mark’s story to, for us – as Mark titles his Gospel, “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God?”
One commentator says that this story is a living illustration of a parable Jesus tells which comes a little earlier in Mark’s gospel ... one that sometimes comes around at this time of the year when gardens have sprouted and are bearing good produce ... fruits and vegetables ... the bounty of the summer. The parable is that of the sower and the seed ... some seed falls on the path, some on the rocks, some among the thorns, and some on good soil. It’s an illustration of how the Word of the Gospel ... the Good News of Jesus ... “takes” or doesn’t in people’s lives.
Herodias and the others in Herod’s chaos-train ... they’re certainly examples of the seed of the Word falling among the rocks. The Good News didn’t stand a chance with them.
But Herod ... the text said that Herod listened to John. The Word had a chance. It had even started to take root in Herod’s life.
But then ... but then it got choked out, by the weeds which surround Herod. Herodias ... his stepdaughter’s dance ... the other officials ... that honor-and-shame gerbil wheel Herod couldn’t get off or out of ... what will they say of me? What will they think of me?? ... and that was the end for John.
And there is another, larger answer to that question, “why is this story part of Mark’s story to, for us?”
It is, quite simply, a preview of the Cross. This whole episode, this whole story, absent as it is of the written word about Jesus ... and yet, and yet it is a harbinger, a prediction, of what will happen to Jesus soon enough ... and, in some way, to all who heed Jesus’ call to discipleship.
John’s manner and demeanor points to Jesus ... taking that third way; when faced with chaos, John, like Jesus later on in his Passion story ... here, John neither surrenders to nor emotionally confronts it ... nor does he disconnect, disengage and detach.
John’s is the non-anxious presence ... he quietly, calmly lays out the larger Truth ... and offers a choice: you may remain in the chaos, and let your life be tempest tossed in the face of it ... or, you may embrace the chaos ... instead of flailing and fighting against it, instead of disconnecting and disengaging, see how you are one with it ... and then, carefully, prayerfully, take steps to change your life.
In other words ... the non anxious presence tells the Truth, lives the Truth, and offers the Word that will guide others into that Truth.
The Truth of love, and life, and service, all in Jesus’ name.
And then ... and then ... it goes on to the end ... for there are always risks involved in embracing the chaos ... John, the calm at the center of all of Herod’s chaos, ended up dying because of, for it.
When his disciples heard about it, they came and took (John’s) body, and laid it in a tomb.
In the same way Jesus’ disciples would do with him.
Embracing the chaos comes with risks, that’s for sure.
For John, for Jesus, for Jesus’ disciples ... and for us.
Now, the bulletin cover probably isn’t the best ‘recruiting tool’ for Christianity ... “Come and lose your head for the sake of God’s truth” ... and most, nearly all of us won’t endure life-threat for bearing the Good News of Jesus ...
... but yet, but yet, that is the word of truth for us, for all who hear Jesus’ discipleship call to follow him, Jesus’ call to Biblical Living which is all about repentance to God, forgiveness by God and service in God’s name, to and through others, for the sake of the world God loves.
That Word of God’s promise is that, yes, following Christ’s call to discipleship does come with risks. That’s true. Today, not likely to be as John the Baptist encountered ... but chaos can and does take many other different shapes, twists and turns in trying to block all the joy and peace and love God has for us ...
But that Word of God’s promise is that God is with us, in all that we do, think and say in Jesus’ name ... with us in and through all the risks, guiding us to embrace and honestly take on the Chaos of this life, so that this life would be something different, something better ...
... for his sake, and in his name.