Proper 10 (15)
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
15 July 2018
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
I have occasionally gone to see a chiropractor, usually because I threw out my back. Thankfully I have not had to go too often, only from time to time. I have not looked for one in Richmond yet, so if you have one you would recommend, you can let me know after the service.
I have also gone to see physio therapists. The first time was in my thirties and much to the physio’s delight I rode my bike to my appointments. The last couple of times I saw a physio therapist was because of a shoulder injury, the first one happened skiing a number of years ago and I had not yet realized that I was no longer in my twenties, which meant that I had simply assumed it was going to get better all on its own, if I only gave the injury some time.
Well, since I was no longer in my twenties it did not get better on its own and after about a year I decided I should go and see someone. I got a diagnosis of the problem as well as some exercises that I was to do on my own. I did them for a while and my shoulder is better but I don’t have the mobility I once had, part of which is probably because I waited so long without doing anything about it. The other reason is that I eventually stopped doing the assigned exercises.
By the way, this is not a discussion of which is better, physiotherapy or chiropractic. But I will confess that in some ways I like chiropractors better than physio therapists, not for any scientific reason whatsoever, but for the simple fact that they do all the work, in whichever way they do it. The problem with physio therapy is that you have to go home and do your exercises and be diligent about it. If you do not do your exercises you may have an excellent diagnosis but you will not get better.
In our Gospel reading we come to a brief insertion into the story of the sending and the return of the disciples whom Jesus had sent into all the surrounding villages. There is no doubt that Mark has placed this story here to remind the church of the opposition the Good News of Jesus faces in the world and in this way it is an encouragement to Mark’s congregation who themselves experienced opposition, and for the church ever since.
The story is the gruesome story of the beheading of John the Baptist. Mark, who usually omits many details and is so succinct in his telling of the story of Jesus and the disciples, tells us many things in today’s reading we would have preferred not to have known. The party and the dance. He tells us of Herod’s foolish promise to give as much as half the kingdom for a dance, which makes us assume that there was also drinking and sexual arousal. But we also hear of John’s preaching, calling Herod on his violation of the law for having married his brother’s wife. This was preaching that de-legitimized Herod as a great king (as opposed to the One coming: Jesus). But in the story we may also assume the economic threat John’s preaching spelled for Herodias and her daughter. What would become of her and her daughter if Herod did divorce her?
In all of this Mark tells us not only that Herod is a weak leader but also of Herod’s conflicted character. By having John arrested he caves to the pressure Herodias exerts on him, while on the other hand he likes to listen to John. Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man … When he heard him he was greatly perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him.
You see, had Herod gone to see his physio, he would have appreciated the diagnosis but would not have done the prescribed exercises.
Herod was in a different position than we are. His decisions had greater consequences than ours do, but we are not unlike him. My zeal to do my exercises has at times petered out. Or think of what lengths we have gone to to prove that we are right even when we eventually got a hunch that we are wrong, we personally. But this also happens on a greater scale, particularly in wars when people not only do not want to lose face but also know that any past sacrifice of life would be rendered meaningless if the un-winnability of a war was acknowledged and so more and more soldiers are sent in stubborn refusal to acknowledge the realities.
Mark suggests not only that Herod acted like a fool but also that he knew he did, for ‘out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse the girl.’ Refusal had come to his mind but he felt trapped because he had never developed the resources to say no. An important thing for all of us to learn is when to say yes and when to say no.
John had preached repentance yet Herod only knew the way forward, not the way back. Catholic commentator John Shea writes that Herod lacked the resources of conversion.
My parents were 13 and 14 respectively at the end of WW II. Their parents, however, were adults. They were not part of the Nazi machine but were part of the masses that had acquiesced to Nazi rule. Thankfully, I did not live in those days and so I do not wish to judge them. But I have long felt that they, not having been part of the life of the church, without meaningful formation in the Christian community, without their lives being informed by Word and sacrament and the practice of the works of mercy (as outlined in the Judgment of the Nations in Matthew 25: What you have done to the least of these …) lacked the resources to imagine a different role for themselves, if not a different way of life.
The gift of life in the church is that God promises to shape us through our common life, our study of the scriptures, through the receiving of the sacraments, through the works of mercy, through our contemplation of the mystery of the incarnation, and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
It is God’s gift that we can think of the life of the church not only as a meaningful hour on Sunday morning but as the reshaping of our lives. Knowing the power of God’s forgiveness we are free to repent and to begin again, and to live this for the world.