Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Breaking the Cycle

Mark 6:14-29

 Usually when we think of sin, we think of it as an individual act.  A person commits a sin.  An individual does something against the will of God.  

 But there are other ways to understand sin.  For example, there are corporate or social sins, acts in which an entire society takes part, either by their direct involvement or by their complicity and silence to stand up against it.  For example, slavery was a social sin.  All of society in some way benefitted from it; so many were silent about its evil.  Only a few actively resisted the evil.

 I think what we see here in Mark 6 is that sin also has an intergenerational component.  It passes from generation to generation.  Obviously, God holds each person accountable only for their own actions, but bad behavior can certainly be learned on a generation to generation level.

 The main actor in this story is Herod Antipas.  He was one of the sons of Herod the Great, and he ruled the region of Galilee during the lifetime of Jesus.  

 Herod the Great was the king of the entire region of Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth.  He was the king who sought to kill Jesus when Jesus was just a child, and instead only succeeded in massacring all the male children of an innocent village.  

 And that was certainly not the only bad thing Herod did.  He was a generally horrible person, and among other things, was consumed with paranoia that people were plotting against him.  He had five different wives, never being faithful to any of them for very long.  By his five wives he had at least eight sons that history records.  He murdered at least one of his wives and three of his own sons because he feared they were plotting against him.  

 When he was on his death bed, Herod the Great knew that people would be glad he was gone.  So he ordered his soldiers to arrest a large number of the most prominent rabbis and leaders of Jerusalem and ordered that when he died, they were all to be murdered so no one would be happy.  Fortunately for them, after his death, they were instead released.  

 That was Herod the Great:  A sexually immoral, paranoid, and violent man.  

 When Herod the Great died, his kingdom was split into four parts and divided between his sons.  They were called tetrarchs, meaning rulers of a quarter part.  

 But one of his sons, Herod Philip did not receive a territory.  Herod Philip married Herodias, who was his brother Aristobulus’ daughter, hence his own niece, and he moved away to Rome.  Together they had a daughter who was either named Herodias as well or Salome.  She’s called both in various places.  She may have had both names.  Salome may have been a middle name to distinguish her from her mother.

 Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee and Perea, married the daughter of Aretas IV, King of Nabatea, one of the regions of Saudi Arabia today.  But when he traveled to Rome on business, he became enamored with his brother Philip’s wife, they had an affair, and he persuaded her to leave Philip and come back to Galilee with him.

 She did.  And then Herod Antipas divorced his first wife and married Herodias.  That didn’t work out too well because a few years later her father went to war against Herod Antipas as revenge and soundly defeated him.  But for now it was John the Baptist who was giving him a hard time.

 John the Baptist was about the only person who was not going to let Herod Antipas off the hook.  Most people were too afraid of him, since he was, after all, the son of the ruthless Herod the Great.  But John was a prophet and was compelled by the Spirit to speak the truth even to powerful people.  Herod Antipas had sinned.  He had committed adultery and incest.  Actually he committed incest twice:  He married his niece who was also his sister-in-law.  What a mess!  

 Maybe because of a guilty conscience, Herod Antipas didn’t seem to want to do anything to John.  But Herodias would not stand for her sin to be exposed.  She demanded Herod Antipas arrest John to silence him.  Herod arrested John, but he would not harm him.  He respected John the Baptist.  He knew he was a righteous man who spoke the truth, even if he was too morally weak to hear the truth.  

 But Herodias got her chance at Herod’s birthday party.  After Herod Antipas was drunk, she sent in her daughter Salome to dance for him.  Salome was all of about 13 years old at this time, but this was not a tap dance routine.  It was a sexually suggestive dance.  Dancing was usually the job of prostitutes, and it’s hard to say which is more disgusting:  Herod lusting after his 13 year old step-daughter, or her mother sending her in to do this.  

 It works.  Herod is so enthralled with her that he offers to give her whatever she wants in a drunken oath.  And she asks for the head of Jon the Baptist on a platter, meaning it was to be set on the table as the “centerpiece” of the meal.  

 Herod must have sobered up pretty quickly.  We are told he was “greatly distressed,” the same word used to describe Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He knew it was wrong, but at the same time, he was too morally weak to do the right thing and embarrass himself in front of his guests.  

 So John the Baptizer dies.  For speaking the truth to a powerful woman, he dies.  

 Even thought Herod was a pretty despicable character, I find something about him to sympathize with.  He was morally weak.  He was incapable of doing the right thing when he knew it.  And in one way or another, we all find ourselves in that place from time to time.  There are times when we know the right thing, but we don’t do it.

 And who would be surprised at Herod’s actions given his family history.  What did he learn growing up?  If you’re not happy with your wife, find a new one.  If you don’t like what people do or say, lock them up and kill them.  He grew up with a culture of sexual immorality, violence and paranoia.  Who could blame him for following suit?  

  There are other examples of a similar pattern in Scripture.  King David sinned greatly in his affair with Bathsheeba.  He used his position of power to coerce her into an affair.  He lied and murdered to try to cover it up.  And what happened in his own family after that?  His son Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar.  Tamar’s brother Absalom lied to David to get Amnon alone and then murdered him.  One generation of sin begat another generation of sin.  

 Sin has an intergenerational component.  We see it in our own lives.  We pick up the bad habits of our own parents, and all too often, we pass them on to our children.  

 We can see it in the worst of things:  Children of alcoholics or drug addicts often grow up to become alcoholics or addicts themselves.  Children who are abused often become abusers themselves.  These patterns are leaned and then passed on.  

 What can we do?  

 We can try to be better people so as not to pass things on to the next generation.  That’s good.  But at the end of the day, we’re still sinners.  We’re always going to have sins in our lives.  We can’t stop sinning on our own.

 We need help.  And the good news is that the grace of God is sufficient to break the cycle of sin.  If we are honest enough to confess our sins to God and admit our need for him to break the cycle of sin in our lives, we can be set free.  

 But in order for that to happen, we have to admit our sins.  We have to have the honesty to own that the things we’ve learned and the things we pass on are not always right.  Can you own your sins?  Can you own the evil in your life?  Can you confess it to God and ask him to set you free from it so that the cycle of sin can end?  

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