“Prayer is being on terms of friendship with God, frequently conversing in secret with Him who, we know, loves us.” St. Teresa of Avila
SCRIPTURE & DEVOTION: Mark 6:1-29; focused on 6:14-29
For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled[b]; yet he liked to listen to him...
Nightmare of Half Efforts
Like a recurring bad dream where you know the end before it starts, the story of King Herod’s betrayal and beheading of John the Baptist unreels in this passage to its horrible end. This passage makes real the weakness of earthly power and the cost of real commitment.
The sleepwalking murderer Herod does not want to do this. He fears and respects John as “a righteous and holy man” whose message “puzzled” Herod, “yet he liked to listen to him.” The rough, blunt John grows close enough to the king to speak truth to power: you are wrong to take your brother’s wife Herodias. This truth unsettles the king and enrages Herodias, so at a vulnerable moment, she corners Herod and demands he kill John.
Other powerful people of the New Testament seek Jesus’ wisdom and the good news of God’s kingdom. The gospel of John tells us Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night to talk about spiritual matters, but apparently doesn’t understand being “born again” until this story comes out after Jesus’ death (John 3). A wealthy young man runs up to Jesus (Mark 10) wanting to know, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” But threatened by losing all he has and has been, this young man turns “away grieving.” Unlike Herod prodded by Herodias to murder John, Pontius Pilate is warned by his wife’s dream (Matt. 27) and does argue but without success to free Jesus. A desire to know more, longing for spiritual experience, even knowing what is right--may eventually lead us to follow Jesus, but are these the same as walking with Him?
To me, the weak efforts of these seekers and Herod’s betrayal bring to mind the frank words of late 1970s Jesus Movement singer Keith Green, who hears Jesus saying, “To obey is better than sacrifice. I don’t need your money. I want your life.” I don’t want to hear these words. Like the wealthy young man, I know they change everything. And besides, a hundred appeals by email, on Facebook, in gimme letters all tell me it IS enough to give money.
Spoiler alert: it is important to give money! But real gifts to God spill out of a committed life.
The point is--John knew what it meant to give his life. He did everything right: he called people to repent, baptized seekers into a changed life, lived a life set apart, sought out the Messiah to know more, and took no credit but admitted all he did only pointed to Him. My guess is that John, like Jesus whose miracles make people “believe… in his name” (John 2), “would not entrust himself to them, for he knew… what was in all people.” For his efforts, John was murdered. Jesus got crucified.
Jesus wants our lives. The season of Lent calls me to wake up to my own limp gestures of faith and the life and death consequences of falling short. Every breath. Every song. Every penny. Every ounce of strength. Waking up from the nightmare of my own human failure, I know these gifts all come from Him; they all belong to Him. Only His grace and power allow me to take a single breath, a single step to walk in Him.
May that grace and power grow in us this Lenten season to know what it looks like for each of us to give our lives to Jesus, to walk with Him and in Him, to “walk in the light as He is in the light” (I John 1:17).
Would You show us how to truly walk with You - to listen to the leading of Your Spirit in our lives. Help us to be not just seekers - but people who obey because we have been filled with Your grace.