A dish not on the menu – Friday, 4th week in ordinary time – Mark 6:14-29
Today’s Gospel finally answers a question that has been holding the reader in suspense since Mark 1:14. Mark who had hinted at the political arrest of St John the Baptist earlier saved the full report until chapter 6. In Mark chapter 1 he had reported, “now after John was arrested…” after that we do not hear of John the Baptist till this moment. Now having heard of him and his gruesome death we are bound to ask the question; where is the good news in Mark 6:14-29? The passage is sickening even when told as a flashback. This was certainly a b-day; not birth day but beheading day.
The text of today is sandwiched between the mission of the twelve (6:6b-13) and its conclusion in 6:30. Mark sandwiches the martyrdom story within the mission story for a reason. The disciples’ mission is quite successful (6:12-13). Mark wants to reassures us that God’s work continues unabated even in the face of the martyrdom of a great servant like John the Baptist. More than any one, Mark’s church needed to hear this because they too were suffering through a great persecution. We need to hear it too, because we, like God’s people through the ages, are prone to interpret difficult times as a sign that God is either impotent or uncaring.
The villain here is quite obvious. Herod Antipas is not really king, but a tetrarch. That term originally meant “one of four rulers,” but came to mean a governor with limited authority. Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee and Perea (Matthew 14:1; Luke 9:7). His brother, Archelaus, ruled over Judea and Samaria and a half-brother, Philip, ruled over Gentile territories on the far side of the Jordan River and northeast of Galilee.
Herod Antipas ruled at Rome’s pleasure, and was subject to Rome’s guidance. He reigned from 4 B.C., but was finally deposed and sent into exile in 36 A.D. Herod’s forty-year reign came to an ignominious end not long after his involvement in the deaths of John and Jesus. Most people, like Herod, think they can mess around with people lives till they meet their Waterloo! Herod who thought he was invincible, met his!
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.