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Mark 6:14-29

The Word of God

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some were saying, "John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him." But others said, "It is Elijah." And others said, "It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." But when Herod heard of it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised." For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife. "And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When the daughter of this same Herodias 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." And he solemnly swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom." She went out and said to her mother, "What should I ask for?" She replied, "The head of John the baptizer." Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

Mark 6:14-29
  • Some thoughts on today's scripture

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    • This is one of the most horrific scenes in the gospels. St Mark is trying to prepare us weak disciples for the passion of Jesus. We are to become strong in face of the world’s evil. Whose head is being cut off today? The heads of the voiceless, the dispossessed, the victims of war, the aborted, prisoners of conscience?
    • St Ignatius asks me to consider what I can do about such evil. If I were the soldier in the story, would I simply do what I am told, or would I refuse and end up being beheaded myself? I ask John the Baptist for the courage to protest against injustices.
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    • The one redeeming feature in this appalling story is John’s fearless stand for marital fidelity, even challenging the Tetrarch of Galilee, Herod Antipas.
    • What he was hearing about Jesus disturbed Herod. In less than two years later, he was to be complicit in the death of Jesus, when Pilate tried to evade responsibility for the execution of Jesus by having Herod, the ruler of Galilee, try him.
    • The passion of John, the Precursor, ends in death; that of Jesus, the Messiah, in resurrection.
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    • ‘Remember those who are in prison as though you were in prison with them’, says the letter to the Hebrews. The Gospel tells the sordid story of the final hours of John the Baptist, beheaded for a frivolous promise of Herod.
    • Lord Jesus, you spent your last night before your crucifixion in prison. Bring comfort to the thousands of good people who are languishing behind bars. They are my sisters and brothers. There but for the grace of God I would be too.
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    • This is one of the most dramatic stories in world literature. John the baptizer is the helpless and innocent one, standing for the truth. He will suffer and die because of a weak ruler, Herod. He is laid in a tomb and disappears from human history. This all points to Jesus: he is also a great prophet, innocent, but doomed to suffer and die because of the weakness of Pontius Pilate. We are being warned not to lose faith in Jesus: he too will be laid in a tomb, but through his resurrection he will change the story of humankind.
    • Discipleship is demanding. Like Jesus, each of us in our own way is called to serve and to give our lives for the sake of others (Mark 10:45). Lord, do not let me lose courage when things go wrong. Let me keep on trying to do good.
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    • Herod made an unwise promise and his pride would not let him back down. Lord, direct my intentions and guide my words so that I might give you glory.
    • How might this awful story help me in my prayer? Perhaps I might think of the vulnerable, the innocent, the foolish – all those who are exploited to achieve the ends of others. I pray that I might grow in compassion for them.
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    • John the Baptist was a channel of grace for King Herod, and the king ‘liked to listen to him’. But the people around Herod, and his own unruly appetites, got in the way. Doesn’t that sound so familiar? Do I get trapped too, and then act out of my lack of freedom?
    • How did those who loved John, including Jesus, feel when they heard why and how he had died? What do they do? How do I react when evil occurs?
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    • Mark’s gospel is focussed on Jesus, so why is this story told? It anticipates the violent death of Jesus, and his burial. It warns me that I will have to suffer in living out the gospel. Even for me to set aside this time to pray can be a sacrifice. I ask for the courage and generosity I need.
    • Herod ‘liked to listen to John the Baptist’ but the seed falls on stony ground. John’s head is served up on a dish as if it were part of the menu. The appalling malice and cruelty of this feast contrasts sharply with the picture in tomorrow’s gospel. There Jesus gathers his disciples and brings them away to care for them. Jesus, cleanse my heart and keep me close to you always.
  • Some thoughts on today's scripture

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    • /Remember those who are in prison as though you were in prison with them/, says the letter to the Hebrews. The Gospel tells the sordid story of the final hours of John the Baptist, beheaded for a frivolous promise of Herod.
    • Lord, you spent your last night before your crucifixion in prison. Bring comfort to the thousands of good people who are languishing behind bars. They are my sisters and brothers. There but for the grace of God I would be too.
    • This is one of the most gruesome stories of the gospel and of all literature. A man, perhaps fuelled with alcohol and with sexual desire, lets the better side of himself be defeated; killing the man he knew to be holy. John is the symbol of people martyred today in the cause of right. Let's pray for them
    • The reason given by Mark for John the Baptist's killing differs considerably from that of the Jewish historian Josephus. According to the latter, Herod was alarmed at John's popularity and feared a rebellion if he were not stopped. "Herod decided therefore that it would be much better to strike first and be rid of him before his work led to an uprising."
    • Herod's vain promise caused him grief. He was afraid of being seen to back down.