Saints and Prophets Are Not Always Loved
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 Mark 6:14-29
Sex and violence; we cannot get away from it even in the scriptures. We have already noted that David’s love for Jonathan made his relationship with King Saul an ongoing battle. In an effort to distract David, and keep a close eye on him, Saul arranged to have David marry his daughter Michal.
Michal admired David, and initially found him very attractive. This episode, where David brings the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, marks a turn in their relationship. Most of the biblical scholars I have read claim that David was wearing a minimal loincloth while dancing mightily, bringing the Ark to Jerusalem.
If we are able to name and reconcile David’s bi-sexuality, it is easy to understand Michal being disgusted by him prancing around, gathering the attention of the women and the men. Why can’t he just sit on a throne like a King and let the people do this task under his watchful eye? Why must he put on such an exhibition? It appears that her father’s anger and disgust with David has passed across the generation to her. It happens you know.
So David brings the Ark, the visible representation of the presence of the almighty God to his capital city. It is an achievement marked without incident. David is generous to the people, as the presence of God ought to cause all of us to be generous. I will not be dancing near naked before the altar of God today, dancing is not one of the gifts God gave me. I believe Michal’s response is an indication that even when we are giving our all in a faithful way, there are always a certain number of detractors. People see things from their own point of view.
The story of John the Baptist meeting a violent end is also wrapped around another story of dancing and sensuality. Herod, the son of Herod the Great, is ruling the portion of the land with the illustrious capital city of Jerusalem. Herod the ‘not so great’ has been lampooned in public by the preacher and prophet John the Baptist. Finally tired of his attacks, Herod has him arrested. Herod is fascinated by the eccentric prophet, and has engaged in thoughtful conversations with him.
At a party, Herodius, his daughter-in-law by marriage, entertains the crowd with her dancing. Herod is aroused by the dance. He swears boldly to present her with a lavish gift. I have always imagined that this scene is fueled by alcohol and sexuality. The scripture does not explicitly say that, perhaps it is more reflective of my own limited experience.
The young girl consults with her mother. Curiously, mother and daughter share the same name. Speaking her mother’s wishes, the dancing queen asks for the head of the prophet John the Baptizer. This appears to pain Herod the ‘not so great’ but he does not want to disappoint the women in his life. The prophet is beheaded.
Before we go any farther let me interject a specific comment here. John the Baptist is not being penalized by God for his sins. John is not suffering for the sins of his father. John is not suffering in order to ‘learn a lesson.’
The popular notion that, ‘everything happens for a reason and is ordained by God,’ is not true and not useful. Bad stuff happens because people choose to be hurtful. Bad things happen because of chance. Bad things happen because human systems are manipulated to serve the rich and powerful, without regard for the suffering of the poor and powerless.
So let this be a part of today’s lesson. Do not wallow in guilt because of some circumstance beyond your control. You may or may not find a lesson to be learned. You may or may not use the experience to appreciate the presence of God in your life. God does not choose to teach John the Baptist a lesson by having him beheaded, or teach you a lesson by suffering from disease, or being in an accident. God will not abandon you in your troubles, but God does not cause troubles in order to be praised by ‘fixing’ the problem he caused.
The other thing we should add here, is that John has been very faithful. He has preached the message he was give to preach. He has prepared the way for the arrival of Jesus. He has spoken the truth to power. You can be perfectly faithful to God’s calling and not be appreciated by the powers of this world. In John’s case, his gifts were even appreciated by Herod, and even that did not protect him.
So today we get a glimpse of the complexity of life, and challenge of being faithful in the world. The world does not always recognize the perspective of being true to God. People have people sized priorities. Alcohol and sexual stimulation can cause people to make inappropriate choices, even if they have been touched by the hand of God.
Herod ‘the not so great’ was learning and listening to the man of God. He had found the message intriguing. His brain and his heart were stimulated; but not enough to hold the line against alcohol and sensuality. In the final analysis, Herod was ‘not so great.’
Do not be persuaded that if you are faithful to God that you will win the day and bask in the glory of the world. The world does not often choose good theology. The popular media is not given to the renderings of the contemplative mind. Sure, we enjoy the one-liners from the Dali Lama, but seldom do we wrestle ourselves for hours with the philosophical and theological challenges that arrived at the door of truth.
During our Lenten study, Phillip Gulley’s book “If the Church Were Christian” invited us to think about the choices we would make as a faith community if we chose to follow Jesus rather than settle for “belief” in Jesus. We discovered in those conversations, that we have the authority to ask questions of our faith, and question the practices of our faith. This enhances our ability to live more purposefully and more genuinely.
It can also put us in a precarious position from time to time. Being faithful to God is not sufficient protection from the corrupt powers of the world. But that is ok. We have the presence of God in our lives, strengthened by our place in the faith community. God’s love and grace will never abandon us. And should the axe of those who do evil bring about our sudden departure, then we will know the presence of God in unspeakable glory. On that day, I may dance before the altar.