This is the sermon the Rev. Amy Haynie preached at the featured online worship service of Trinity Episcopal Church, Fort Worth, for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost. July 11, 2021.
Names are repeated in our family – and they may be in yours too – seems like it happens more often than not in families. Of course, I am Amy and my husband’s sister is Amy. When she got married a few years after we did, the nametags said either “Amy, the Bride” or “Amy, Not the Bride.” Before she married I incurred the pity of a few flower shop people who probably thought I was sending flowers to myself for my Birthday. My husband is David, my dad is David, my husband’s 1st medical practice partner is David, and the priest when we first married was David – whew – talk about a comedy of errors! My mom and my stepmom are both Laura. You get the drift.
Our gospel lesson today has some of those same undertones and possible misunderstandings – you see, Herod was one of four brothers, also named Herod, from a father also named Herod. And the daughters of Herods seemed to be named Herodias. They all may have had other names to help distinguish them – such as the Herod in today’s Gospel also being having “Antipas” tacked on. His brother, also Herod, also Philip, is mentioned in the story. In this version, Herodias is the second wife, and the daughter from HIS first marriage.
Now – on a side note, this is Mark’s version of the story. In Matthew’s version of the story, the daughter is Herodias’ daughter, maybe also known as Salome, but not in this version. Matthew’s version is even creepier in my opinion. You can find it at Matthew 14:6-11 if you want to compare.
So in this less creepy version, Herodias, the adult woman, is married to her uncle, after leaving or possibly divorcing her first husband, Herod, Philip, also her uncle. Apparently marrying an uncle was not uncommon – and that make some sense if we remember how many wives some men had so that all of the Herods may have been half-brothers? Different time and culture for sure because the fact that the adult Herodias was married to her uncle either time was not the issue that John the Baptist had a beef about.
Let’s talk about John the Baptist for a minute – in this Gospel reading, we get a different image of him also. I always think of him wearing camel hair and eating beetles, but in this reading he comes across as someone in a position oof some power and authority – enough of both of those to make the adult Herodias be fearful about her marriage and maybe even her own life. Herod Antipas apparently even was fearful of John on some level and protected him up to this point. It says that “Herod [Antipas] liked to listen to him [John].” John had gotten crossways with the adult Herodias over her divorce from Herod Philip and her remarriage to Herod Antipas. You see in Jewish law, a man is supposed to marry his brother’s wife only if the brother dies, not in the case of divorce. John might have seen this marriage as unlawful – even though it was fine and dandy for men to have many wives, it was unheard of for women to have more than one husband, and a living ex-husband still counted in John’s reading of the Law.
Herodias, the adult woman, had to be fearful about her place in all of this. She held no power beyond the man she was married to – so for John the Baptist to bring that into question must have been terrifying. Desperate people do desperate things. It is way too easy to paint her with the broad brush of an evil woman, a wicked queen. That simplifies all of this to a mere Disney fairy tale. She could have been killed herself, with no one who would have blinked. Matthew’s version tells us she had her own daughter, Mark’s version lists Herod’s daughter here. The adult Herodias had duties and a life, relationships, and purpose. Later in life, when Herod Antipas is loses power and prestige, the adult Herodias stands by him in exile, even though she could have stayed with her other kinfolk in the royal family. There is some real affection and loyalty here between Herod Antipas and the adult Herodias. There is also loyalty between the adult Herodias and the teen Herodias – they have already learned to trust each other and stick together – growing up as a female in that time period would have taught all women at a very early age how to look out for themselves and each other wherever they could gain some power.
The teen girl, Herodias, is young – too young for marriage yet, so maybe 12, 13, 14-ish. Who knows if she will have any say at all in who she will soon be married off to. Mark identifies her as Herod Antipas’ daughter, maybe from another marriage. So Herod Antipas’ oath to his own daughter cannot be broken after he promised her anything she wished. She is the daughter of a King, yet still a mostly powerless pawn in a royal court.
One simple reading of this story tells us what happened to John the Baptist – the story of his death.
Another reading of this story casts all of the blame onto the more vulnerable people, the women – after all, they are much safer targets than those actually in power. It is too easy to vilify them.
Another way to read this story is as a parallel to the story of Elijah tangling with Ahab and Jezebel in a conflict over their marriage. A harkening back to an earlier prophet also mentioned in this Mark reading. Later in Mark, at 8:28, Jesus is going to ask his disciples “who do people say that I am?” and they are going to answer with this same list: “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, some say another prophet as of old…” It would be foolish of us not to see this parallel to other parts of Scripture if we rush to a simple conclusion too quickly.
It is also the cautionary tale of a Righteous Man, John, in a Wicked Royal Court. It foreshadows Jesus’ own story of getting crosswise with the powers-that-be. Earlier in Mark, at 3:6, the Pharisees and the Herodians were plotting together already against Jesus.
So here’s where I am going to leave it with you today – you get to ponder and chew on why you think we heard this Gospel reading – what does it mean in your life? Which part of it stirs you in some way: angers you, moves you to feel pity, makes you want to stand up to the injustice for the least, the lost, and the last?
You see, we all do not have to come to the same conclusion. We do not all have to believe the same version – find the same villains and heroes. We are each allowed to look at it in a myriad of different ways. That example is set over and over by our spiritual ancestors from the very beginning of the Bible which has two different Creation stories – maybe three. God seems to have never been concerned that we all tell the same tale, but very concerned that we all ponder and pray and act on how we each are called to bring about the Kingdom.
Amos gives us the image of a plumb line – and he is also dismissed by a King. If we are standing on the correct side of the plumb line, God promises to never desert us. The Psalmist urges us to listen to God to hear the way to righteousness and peace. Paul reassures us through the letter to the Ephesians that we are all adopted – fully inheritors of the Kingdom that we are to help usher in. What is our Kingdom Work to do THIS WEEK my friends? Amen.