The Season after Pentecost: Proper 10, Year B

Death of a Prophet

  • 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
  • Psalm 24
  • Ephesians 1:3-14
  • Mark 6:14-29

When the disciples began to spread the word of Jesus, the authorities took notice. Herod, terrorized by his guilty conscience, believed that Jesus was John the Baptist returned from the dead. In those days it was believed that the spirit of those who had died a violent death worked through others. He was sure Jesus had come to plague him for executing the prophet in order to save face with his friends and to appease the vengeance of his bitter wife. Herod knew that John was a “righteous and holy man.” He wanted to protect the Baptist, but when his image as a powerful king was called into question, he abandoned his concerns for the Baptist’s welfare to protect his own reputation.

Others thought Jesus was the return of Elijah, who had been taken into heaven without death (2 Kings 2:11). Through the prophet Malachi, God had promised to send Elijah to prepare the people for the day of the Lord (Malachi 4:5). No one, however, seems able to see Jesus for who he really is. Instead they try to fit him into a predetermined structure of truth that has no room for Jesus.

The insertion of this grisly story (John’s death by beheading at Herod’s birthday  banquet) fulfills a definite purpose in the overall scheme of Mark’s Gospel. The death of John the Baptist parallels with the death of Jesus. Just as John preached and was handed over to be killed by the reigning political powers (Herod was the tetrarch of Galilee and not actually a king), so to was Jesus handed over and killed. Both of their executioners – Herod in John’s case and Pilate in the case of Jesus) – seemed to be reluctant to deliver death sentences; but both succumbed to political pressure.

Mark was writing during a time when being a disciple could very well mean giving up one’s life. They too had to face that one day they might be handed over and sentenced to death by the power structure. Mission for them was giving all. 

For reflection:

  • What are some contemporary explanation of Jesus that fail to recognize his true identity?
  • What does today’s story imply about true discipleship?
  • When have you sacrificed something important to you in order to gain approval from and power over others?
  • How do the earthly, political powers pose a challenge to preaching the Gospel and fulfilling its demands for us today?
  • How do you seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in your Christian walk? In what particular aspects were John and Jesus good examples to us of this Way?
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About Sharon Ely Pearson

Editor and Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing Incorporated
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