Tumbling in the Sand
“But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee.”-Mark 6:21
This text about the beheading of John the Baptist is so full of horror, injustice and tragedy and layer upon layer of allusion and critique, I hardly know where to even begin. The use and abuse of bodies (Herod’s step-daughter and John) for the amusement (Herod’s) and agenda (Herodias’) of others in this story is tragic and echoes closely with our own lives: where human beings are treated as resources for exploitation and whose bodies are used and discarded as needed to widen profit margins and build power.
Then there is this extreme show of wealth and dominance at Herod’s banquet while, just beyond the sounds of music, feasting and dancing, John sits in prison—his life dangling in the balance like the scarves draping off of Herod’s stepdaughter’s body, all the while the people of Israel struggle in poverty and under the oppression of the empire of Rome while their leaders are treated (or taunted) with this luxury and imperium. I suppose it is too easy to see the connection with our current election cycle where billions of dollars are poured out in extravagant shows of power while the lives and livelihoods of the country’s least of these hang in the balance, mostly ignored.
And I could go on—the silencing of truth tellers, the (ab)use of children by their parents, the vanity of power, and more are all present in this text—but I think that perhaps what would be most fruitful for this short reflection is to hear the critically distorted echo of this banquet and another one that is held only a little later in Mark’s gospel: the banquet where Jesus and the disciples gather in the upper room. A banquet where power is given away to service. A banquet where everyone is fed and bodies are carefully tended. A banquet where keeping up appearances is dropped as the teacher bends a knee to wash feet. A banquet where the only flesh on a platter is God’s own embodied in bread and wine and given to all—not for revenge, but for forgiveness. A banquet where the hunger is for healing and wholeness, not for death and control. A banquet that leads from death to the promise of life, rather than the illusion of life to the horror of violent death. A banquet that ends not with the disciples laying John’s body in the tomb, but with a stone rolled away and a terrifyingly promising message that life wins.