Background on Readings, July 12 (Proper 10)

July 9, 2015 at 4:23 pm

TEXTS: Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

Our Gospel lesson today, the amazing story of the state murder of John the Baptist, deserves some background explanation. Herod Antipas (the Herod mentioned in today’s Gospel text) was one of the sons of Herod the Great, the infamous tyrant who ruled over Judea and Galilee as a puppet of the Romans at the time of Jesus’ birth. After the death of Herod the Great, the Romans split his territory between his surviving sons. Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee and Perea; his brother Herod Philip over what is now southwest Syria, and Pontius Pilate was the Roman Procurator of Samaria, Idumea, and Judea, the area around Jerusalem.


On a visit to Philip, Herod Antipas persuaded Herodias to divorce Philip and marry him; probably not because he ‘loved’ Herodias, but because he desired to show up his brother and to prove who was the most powerful of the sons of Herod the Great. Herodias finds her fulfillment as an object of the desire of a powerful man, and is enraged when John the Baptist proclaims that Herod has sinned by marrying his brother’s wife, which is forbidden by Torah (Lev. 18:16; 20:21). She wants John dead.

John is thrown into prison, but not executed, because Herod ‘likes to listen to him.’ The only way Herodias can have John put to death is if Herod is maneuvered into a position where he has no choice. In his rashness and desire to please his guests Herod promises the girl who performed at his party whatever she asks for (the phrase, ‘half my kingdom’ is probably an exaggeration, as when someone says, ‘ask for the moon.’) Herodias’s daughter takes her mother’s order to ask for the head of John literally. Though Herod is shocked by the girl’s request, he cannot take back his promise for fear of looking weak in front of his guests. Such weakness would undermine his position, just as John the Baptist’s criticism undermines Herodias’s. Ironically, Herod’s attempt to avoid looking weak proves his weakness.

John the Baptist Salome

John the Baptist, the last and greatest of the prophets, dies like them (and like Jesus his cousin) because his words threaten someone’s power. We see the same theme in the Old Testament reading, where the priest Amaziah wants to muzzle Amos, an itinerant prophet who is preaching against King Jeroboam of Israel. Amos says ‘he is no prophet,’ which seems confusing. What Amos means is that he is not a professional. His vocation is not a family tradition, passed down from father to son, but instead Amos has received a direct call from the LORD. Therefore, he’s not bound by geography nor by the ‘rules.’ He will say what God wants him to say, whatever the consequences.

The introduction of the letter to the Ephesian Christians is a recounting of the story of salvation. God has bestowed grace upon his people through the Beloved, and people receive redemption and forgiveness through his sacrifice on the cross. The apostles received the knowledge of this mystery, and the Ephesians have believed through their preaching, and have received the Holy Spirit, which is a pledge of the whole salvation which they will receive in the fullness of time.


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95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Reformations – A Rejoinder Reflections on Monday Daily Lectionary, Feast Day of St Athanasius


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