Herod…had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.
21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. – Mark 6:17-29
Maybe you remember Dymo label makers – the old kind with raised white letters on strips of colored, adhesive-backed plastic. I used one to make a little reminder: SMILE. GOD LOVES YOU.
When I was in high school, our family dynamics were chaotic and often relationally-strained. Financial challenges conspired with the tragic death of my little sister to raise the emotional temperature in our home. Add to that the seething anger of a teenage boy who thought he knew more than his parents (especially more than his mother), and you can imagine.
I decided, however, to try to lighten the mood. So I made the label and posted it on the mirror above the sink in our kitchen. I don’t recall whether it helped the mood in our home. But it helped me to have done my part to fix the problem in my mom. Lord, have mercy on me! I wish I had a bigger heart for her and my dad than I did during those days.
Sometimes evil is so obvious and clearly-present that the target of righteous anger and indignation is appropriately-focused. Herodias. Herod. Herodias’ daughter. The king’s guests and their excesses. The cruel oppression of the truth of God that was coming from the last Old Testament prophet, John the Baptist. All these are obvious sources of evil. All deserve condemnation.
God used all this evil for his ultimate purposes no doubt. But what a sad commentary on the broken state of the world of that day. And ours. There is nothing new under the sun. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. There is no one righteous. Not even one. All we like sheep have gone astray. We are carriers of the disease we are trying to overcome.
SMILE. GOD LOVES YOU may seem a trite slogan for times such as this. But this truth is our only hope. Without God’s love we would be eternally lost in the mire of our own making. We add daily to the troubles of this world by our thoughts, words, and actions. Make no mistake: “All have sinned” includes us all.
Events such as the beheading of John point us to the obvious evil that is in the world. The fact that these events are recorded for us may serve as a reminder, however, not only of our broken world, but also of God’s awareness of it. And the fact that these murderous actors were not immediately smitten by God, is a reminder of God’s patience. He is not slow about his promises (for redemption or retribution) but he is patient, seeking our repentance.
There is nothing good about John’s beheading – except John’s unwavering commitment to the truth of God. And we have hinted at in this moment something more substantial than a Dymo label. For John’s death hints at a more substantial evidence of God’s love: the cross of Jesus. God’s love writ large.