Lectio Divina: Mark 6:14-29
1) Opening prayer
Lord our God,
help us to love You with all our hearts
and to love all people as You love them.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel reading - Mark 6:14-29
King Herod heard about Jesus, for his fame had become widespread, and people were saying, "John the Baptist has been raised from the dead; That is why mighty powers are at work in him." Others were saying, "He is Elijah"; still others, "He is a prophet like any of the prophets." But when Herod learned of it, he said, "It is John whom I beheaded. He has been raised up." Herod was the one who had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married. John had said to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." Herodias harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so. Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him. Herodias had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday, gave a banquet for his courtiers, his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee. His own daughter came in and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, "Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you." He even swore many things to her, "I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of my kingdom." She went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask for?" Her mother replied, "The head of John the Baptist." The girl hurried back to the king's presence and made her request, "I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist." The king was deeply distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her. So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head. He went off and beheaded him in the prison. He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl. The girl in turn gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
• The Gospel today describes how John the Baptist was victim of the corruption and of the arrogance of the government of Herod. He died without being judged by a tribunal, in the course of a banquet given by Herod with the great men of the kingdom. The text gives us much information about the time of the life of Jesus and on the way in which the powerful of the time exercised power. From the beginning of the Gospel of Mark we perceive or see a situation of suspense. He had said, “After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God!” (Mk 1:14). In today’s Gospel, almost suddenly, we know that Herod had already killed John the Baptist. Therefore, the reader asks himself, “What will he do now with Jesus? Will He suffer the same destiny? Rather than drawing up a balance of the opinions of the people and of Herod on Jesus, Mark asks another question, “Who is Jesus?” This last question grows throughout the Gospel until it receives the definitive response from the centurion at the foot of the Cross: “Truly, this man was the Son of God!” (Mk 15:39)
• Mark 6:14-16. Who is Jesus? The text begins with a balance on the opinions of the people and of Herod on Jesus. Some associated Jesus with John the Baptist and with Elijah. Others identified Him with a prophet, that is, with someone who spoke in the name of God, who had the courage to denounce the injustices of the powerful and who knew how to animate the hope of the little ones. People tried to understand Jesus starting from the things that they themselves knew, believed, and hoped. They tried to make Him fit into the familiar criteria of the Old Testament with its prophecies and its hopes, and of the tradition of the ancients, with their laws. But these criteria were not sufficient. Jesus could not fit in those criteria. He was much greater!
• Mark 6:17-20. The cause for the killing of John. Galilee, the land of Jesus, was governed by Herod Antipas, the son of King Herod the Great, from the year 4 BC up to the year 39 after Christ. In all, 43 years! During the whole lifetime of Jesus, there had been no change in the government of Galilee! Herod Antipas was the absolute lord of everything; he listened to no one and did whatever he pleased! But the one who really commanded in Palestine, from the year 63 BC, was the Roman Empire. Herod, in order to not be removed from office, tried to please Rome in everything. He insisted above all on an efficient administration which would provide income for the Roman Empire. The only thing that concerned or worried him was his security and promotion. This is why he repressed any type of subversion. Flavius Josephus, a writer of that time, says that the reason for the imprisonment of John the Baptist was Herod’s fear of a popular revolt. Herod liked to be called benefactor of the people, but in reality he was a tyrant (Lk 22:25). John’s denouncement of him (Mk 6: 18) was the drop which filled up the cup, and John was thrown into prison.
• Mark 6:21-29: The murder plot. The anniversary and the banquet of the feast, with dancing and orgies! This was an environment in which the alliances were plotted. In attendance were “the great of the court, the officials and important people from Galilee”. In this environment the murder of John the Baptist was plotted. John, the prophet, was a living denouncement in this corrupt system. This is why he was eliminated under the pretext of personal vengeance. All this reveals the moral weakness of Herod. So much power accumulated in the hands of a man who did not control himself! Under the enthusiasm of the feast and of the wine, Herod swore lightly to give something to the young dancer. And superstitious as he was, he thought that he had to maintain his oath. For Herod, the life of his subjects counted nothing, had no value. He used them as he wanted and decided what to do with them just as he decided where to place the chairs in his house. Mark gives an account of how things happened and lets the community draw its own conclusions.
4) Personal questions
Do you know the cases of people who have died victims of corruption and of the dominion of the powerful? Do you know people in the community and in our Church who are victims of authoritarianism and an excess of power?
• Herod, the powerful who considered himself the owner of life and death of the people, was a great superstitious man and feared John the Baptist. He was a coward before the great, a corrupt man before the girl. Superstition, cowardice, and corruption characterized the exercise of Herod’s power. Compare this with the corrupt power today in the various levels of society.
5) Concluding prayer
This God, His way is blameless;
the word of Yahweh is refined in the furnace,
for He alone is the shield of all who take refuge in Him. (Ps 18:30)