The Uncomfortable Party
Last Sunday was the last time that Pam and I were scheduled to lead the Sunday afternoon worship at the Manor. I am sure that we will be back as we have offered to cover Fr. Jacobsen when he is away. It was my turn to give the homily. As I sat and researched and then drafted and edited the text, I realized that my homily style had developed in response to the congregation at the service. The homily may be shorter than a traditional sermon and may reflect on a single thought from scripture, but that did not mean that it could not challenge, or even make the listeners a little uncomfortable.
Homily given at St. Paul’s Manor, San Diego, Sunday 12th July 2015
Proper 5 Year B RCL Track 1
Today’s Gospel reading, the reading that we have just heard is the reading that no one likes to think about. Let’s be honest, it is a story that is tragic, petty, full of hate, full of revenge and quite gruesome as well.
He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.
Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, was a Jew but he was also an officer of the Roman Empire. His personal life was complex. He had married his brother’s wife, whilst his brother was still alive. A definite no-no in those times. But he was in charge of the region and so he could get away with it. The only problem was, was this man called John the Baptist, a wild man, always preaching, always leading the way for the one who would come after him. John the Baptist called Herod out, told him that his marriage was wrong. Herod couldn’t let him just carry on like that even if he was drawn, maybe because of his Jewish roots, to the message that John the Baptist was preaching. The solution was to jail John. That way he could silence him in public but not actually kill him. Herod was intrigued by John but also frightened by what he stood for. Herod’s wife Herodias on the other hand just outright hated John the Baptist for the trouble he had caused.
So in the story we come to the party. And it sounded like it was a great party. A birthday banquet, full of food and drank and dancing. And there was his daughter the star of the show, working the dance floor, making everyone happy. Like any proud father, at a party, probably with a few too many drinks inside of him he makes a grand gesture to his daughter. Choose whatever you want – even half the kingdom, ask and it’s yours. The daughter do not know what to say, what to ask for, so she runs to her mother. Her mother is still full of hate for John the Baptist and so tells her daughter to ask for his life, his head on the plate.
When Herod hears this, he is shocked, he does not want to kill John the Baptist – secretly he quite likes his preaching. He wants him silenced in public but not killed. But what can he do to stop it? He is a high ranking officer of the Roman Empire, who lived by his word. If he refused his daughters request, his men would lose trust in him. Whenever he said that he would do something in the future, no one would trust that he would carry through. What was he to do? What choice did he have? Being an officer of the Roman Empire was more important than being true to his Jewish heritage. He had no choice. It was off with John the Baptist’s head.
What did this achieve? Maybe temporary validation of his empire status. Maybe his wife got some closure to her hatred of John. I’m not sure about his daughter?, Maybe she got her mother’s approval and favor. But long lasting achievements? If anything it only served to heighten awareness of Christ. John the Baptist was dead, but the one who came after him was growing in his ministry. Right after today’s gospel we have the story of the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus sustaining life, as opposed to Herod killing life. Jesus feeding the many as opposed to Herod entertaining the few. The contrast could not be greater.
But Herod had no choice, he did what he had to do. He did what the empire and society expected him to do. Herod had no choice. Or did he? Herod could have heard the request for John the Baptist’s head and said no. Refused to kill him without just and legal cause. He could have stood up to his daughter, his wife, his fellow officers and the expectations of those around him and of the society that he was part of. Standing up to them may have caused him some problems, it may have led to people question his authority but had he stood up to them and refused to issue the death sentence then he would have known that he had the authority of God on his side. He could have chosen to listen and obey his faith rather than blindly following the traditions and expectations of the society in which he lived in.
And there we have the link to you and to me. To our life today. In many ways we are living the party. The party that does not fully care for the vulnerable members of our society, forcing them to live on the streets. The party that supports widespread and institutionalized racism in our nation. The party that makes gun ownership so easy. The party that leaves our veterans without the support that they need. The party that values someone’s life upon their material worth. The party where equality for all is a bad word.
Maybe some of those party descriptions make you a little uncomfortable. But today our gospel reading is uncomfortable.
So then we are left with the question. Do we want to be like Herod and go with the flow, save our face, sacrifice our beliefs when we know the truth that is deep in our heart? Or are we going to be Christ like, disciple like, and stand up for the poor, the vulnerable and those in need of our protection. Are we going to be Christians who value the worth of every human being? Are we going to be Christian’s that are prepared to be unpopular if needed, at odds with society but strong in the knowledge that we have the authority of the God behind us?
I hope so, that is my prayer for myself and for each and every one of us. May we be known through the love of Christ and not through the admiration of society.
Richard a great job on a very difficult subject well done