Seward United Methodist Church
Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Bad Decisions

Mark 6:14-29

 Have you ever made a decision you regretted?  I know that’s a silly question.  We all have.  And we will all make more of them, too.  

 The real issue is not “Do we make bad decisions and regret them?”  The real issue is “What do we do after we make a bad decision?  How quick are we to turn away from it?  How quick are we to admit our mistakes?  Do we seek to make things right?”  Those are the real questions.  And the issue of quickness matters because it gets harder and harder to turn away from bad decisions the longer we persist in them.  The word repentance means “to turn around.”  And it’s always easier to turn around at the beginning of the road than at the end.

 Herod Antipas illustrates that for us.  Mark calls him “the king.”  I suspect that Mark is saying that “tongue in cheek.”  Herod Antipas was not a king, and in fact, some time after this, he asked Rome for the title of king, and in response, Rome tossed him out on his can.  

 Herod Antipas was one of the sons of Herod the Great.  Herod the Great was the king over the entire region of Israel, what the Romans called the territory of Palestine, at the time of the birth of Jesus.  He was called Herod the Great because of his great power and his many building programs.  But he was also a ruthless, paranoid, bloodthirsty tyrant.  We know him best from Scripture as the king who tried to kill Jesus by murdering all the baby boys in Bethlehem, and that was pretty typical for him.  

 When Herod the Great died, his kingdom was split into four parts.  Four of his sons became “tetrarchs,” meaning “rulers of a quarter part.”  They weren’t kings.  Rome wouldn’t give them that title.  Herod Antipas became the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea.  Perea was the territory east of the Jordan and the Dead Sea.  And he married the daughter of Aretas IV, who was the king of the territory to the east of Perea called Nabatea.  

 But there was one son left out, Herod Phillip.  Herod Phillip did not receive a territory.  He married Herodias, who was the daughter of Herod Phillip’s dead half-brother Aristobulus, so she was his niece.  With his family connections, he secured a government job in Rome and off they went.  

 Some time later Herod Antipas was called to Rome on official business.  He went and stayed with his brother Herod Phillip.  During that time, he and Herodias began an affair.  The history books say that “Herod Antipas seduced Herodias.”  But the more I think about this story and these characters, the more I wonder about that assessment.  I see Herodias as the one who is ruthless and conniving.  She is to be the one who is always grasping for more.  She wants to “move up” in the world.  For her, marrying Herod Antipas is a step up from where she is.  And I wonder if it wasn’t her that persuaded Herod to seek the title of king to take another step up.  And we see that she was the driving force behind the death of John the Baptist to “secure her place.”  I wonder who it was that initiated this affair.

 For his part, Herod Antipas strikes me as a weak man who is unable to control his passions.  And there is certainly a precedent in Scripture for the weak “king” who is controlled by his “grasping wife.”  The Old Testament story of Ahab and Jezebel is reminiscent of this story.  In 1 Kings, we see Ahab acknowledging the truth spoken by the prophet Elijah.  But he is also too weak to oppose his pagan wife Jezebel when she attempts to kill the prophet.  

 However it happened, when Herod Antipas leaves Rome, Herodias goes with him.  Herod comes home, dismisses his first wife, and marries Herodias.  

 It’s wrong.  Not only have they committed adultery, but also incest.  The Old Testament forbade the marrying of a man to his sister-in-law while his brother was still alive.  Probably for obvious reasons!  Talk about the kind of thing that creates tension in a family.  Not to mention the fact that Herod Antipas is also Herodias’ uncle!  Best not to think about it too much!

 But he is rich and powerful?  Who would speak up against him?  The answer is John the Baptist, the fearless prophet of God.  

 It’s not Herod Antipas, but Herodias, who wants John arrested.  For his part, Herod respected John.  He knew he was “holy,” set apart from the world.  He knew John was honest and spoke the truth.  He was disturbed when he listened to John, but still he liked to listen.  

He recognized the truth John spoke, even if he was unwilling to yield to the truth.  That last part is critical.  The biblical understanding of truth is that it is not simply intellectual.  It is practical.  Truth is not simply to be known, it is to be obeyed and lived. 

We have to yield to the truth, and that requires strong character.  Herod Antipas had weak character.  

 And Herodias knew it.  But she also knew that as long as John was alive, there was at least a chance that Herod might eventually listen to him, and she might lose her place.  So she wanted him dead.  

 She found her chance at Herod’s birthday.  After he was probably “thoroughly lubricated,” she sends in her daughter.  Herodias’ daughter is said here to be named Herodias as well.  Boy they sure loved that name, Herod!  In other places she was called Salome.  Probably one was her first name and the other her middle, though I don’t have a clue which was which.  This was her daughter from Phillip, so Herod Antipas’ step-daughter.  She was about 13 years old at this time. 

 She is sent in to dance.  Now, in Roman society and first century Jewish society, dancing wasn’t something done in polite company.  They didn’t have ballroom dancing or folk dancing.  Dancing was part of the job of prostitutes, so this was an “exotic” dance.  It’s a pretty sickening picture.  I don’t know which is worse:  Herod lusting after his teenage step-daughter, or the fact her mother put her up to it.  

 Thinking about Herod Antipas, I asked you the question, “Have you ever made a decision you regretted?”  Well, thinking about Herodias and her actions, I think the question is, “What are you willing to sacrifice to get what you want?  Are you willing to sacrifice your integrity?”  Thinking about Salome, and her part in this story, the question becomes, “Will you use other people for the sake of your own desires?”  Salome is being used.  She is not being treated with any kind of dignity that a human being deserves.  And again, we’re all guilty of these things.  We all make bad decisions.  We all sacrifice things we shouldn’t for the sake of what we want.  And we all use other people in ways we never should.  

 The plan works.  Herod, probably drunk, gives a foolish oath:  “I’ll give you whatever you want.”  And the answer is John’s head on a platter.  Herod probably sobered up pretty quickly when he heard that!  He was, as verse 26 says, PERILUPOS, the Greek word translated as “greatly disturbed.”  It’s the same word used to describe Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.  But where Jesus did the right thing, Herod does the wrong thing.  He could have said no.  It would have cost him some

embarrassment in front of his guests, but he could have done it.  But again, he was weak.  Instead of turning off the wrong path, he keeps going down it.  And John dies.

 It seems to me that Herod feels some measure of guilt over this.  Because when he hears about Jesus, he says, “John, the man I beheaded, is back from the dead!”  That sounds like a guilty conscience to me.  

 The other character in the story, one of the mostly silent characters, is John himself.  Other than one declaration of the truth, he has nothing to say.  The question we should ask ourselves as we think about John is, “Are you willing to stand up for what’s right even if it will cost you dearly?  Is your integrity more important to you than your ease, your comfort, even your life?”

 There is also a parallel to Jesus in the story.  Herodias mirrors the attitude of the Pharisees and religious authorities toward Jesus.  John exposed Herodias’ sin, and Herod’s, and so she killed him.  Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, so they sought to kill him.  

 Killing the messenger is a time-honored tradition in this world.  We seek to shut up or shut down those who speak a message we don’t want to hear.  The problem is that it doesn’t work.  You can kill the messenger, but that doesn’t destroy the message.  

 Denying the truth doesn’t make it false.  There is only one way that we can rightly respond to the truth:  We must yield to it.  Even if it costs us.  Even if it embarrasses us.  We should yield to the truth.

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