While we were in Canada for our daughter’s wedding in May, the future king of England and his wife arrived. Prince Charles and Camilla came to Toronto to join in the Victoria Day (a holiday in honor of the queen’s birthday) festivities. We observed with no little amusement how the Canadians, including our host, grew excited to have royalty among them.
Charles and Camilla have suffered a long bout of unpopularity after he divorced the immensely loved Princess Diana following a public admission of and an adulterous affair with Camilla. But Charles looks almost like a saint in comparison to the royalty who lived under the name Herod.
In our text for this Sunday, Mark 6:14-29, we meet the second Herod of the New Testament. This is Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great (who we remember tried to kill the infant Jesus). Antipas followed in his father’s footsteps in all the worst ways, imitating his father’s excesses (Herod the Great had ten wives) but without his father’s competence.
The setting for the story is that Antipas decided to divorce his wife and take the wife (Herodias) of his brother Philip (who was still living). Herodias was the daughter of Antipas’ half-brother Aristobulus and thus he was marrying his niece. To that seamy story, Antipas added the murder of the one man with enough guts to point out the immorality of it all.
Mark recalls the murder of John the Baptist after in verse 14-16 showing us Antipas worrying that the reports he was hearing about Jesus’ preaching and miracles meant that John had risen from the dead and come back to haunt him.
John the Baptist is a fascinating figure and verses 17-29 takes us completely away from the story of Jesus to give us the details of John’s death. We are actually in the middle of another Markan “sandwich,” because in last week’s text (Mark 6:7-13) Jesus sent His disciples out to preach and heal. Then in verse 30, after the story about John, we see them returning to report to Jesus all they had done.
The implication of the sandwich may be that the fate of John will be the fate of those who are most faithful to Christ. Speaking the truth about corruption will make us unpopular with people in power. There’s much to think about here as we compare Antipas’ negative example of weakness and dissipation with John’s glowing model of faithfulness even to death.