Mark 6:14-20

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. Mark 6:14-20

The two most famous pastors when I was a kid were Billy Graham and Martin Luther King, Jr. Both were preachers but much more than parish pastors. Both had voices that echoed through our culture. Graham had the ear of presidents from Herbert Hoover to Barack Obama. Both were articulate in speaking against the evil of segregation. Both regularly spoke out about governmental policy – in different tones, by different means. Dr. King spent much more time in jail.

There are very good reasons why America adopted the stance of the separation of church and state. The immigrant reality of life meant that many aspects of the “old world”, including state sponsored religion, needed to be left behind if people were to cooperate in building a new world here. Until recent years and attempted changes to governmental policy, people were never forced to pass through religious litmus tests to come to the United States.

But there have always been doors and windows in that wall of separation. Like Graham and King and so many other famous and infamous names throughout the decades, religious leaders have always spoken to issues of morality and public policy. Those there has seldom been agreement about what is said, there has always been freedom to say it.

King Herod had all the power (that Rome gave him) to do what Herod wanted to do within the territory under his control. Like the old line says, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And King Herod was certainly corrupt. His private life echoed his public life. The same man who could throw away his first wife in order to steal Herodias from his brother could be counted on to abuse his political power as well.

John the Baptizer continued a long tradition – reaching back at least to Moses before Pharaoh or Nathan and King David – of religious leaders who confronted and challenges the immorality of political leaders. And for that, Herod had John arrested and imprisoned.

We should note that Herod did not immediately order John killed. Mark says that he “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.” Next week we’ll learn the limits of Herod’s interest in John.
Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you guide us always to both justice and righteousness. Help us to hear with discerning ears and see with eyes wide open when political power is abused and your people suffer. We pray today for all those who suffer because their faith, active in love, calls them to speak out against such abuses of power. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: