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Monday, January 12, 2009

The Fifth Page for January 11, 2008

I ended up making cuts to the sermon after I posted it to the Trinity website. Folks that heard it on Sunday morning did not get this part about John the Baptist:

After Jesus was baptised, John the Baptist followed the path of many prophets before and after him. He got himself in trouble, by daring to point out wrong where he saw it. John was critical of Herod Antipas, the Roman-backed ruler of Palestine, who was in an incestuous romance with his niece, who was also his brother’s wife. The king responded by having him arrested, and thrown in jail. Later he was beheaded.

Some scholars think that the details about John the Baptist story were included in the gospel stories about Jesus to firmly connect Jesus to the prophetic stream of Israel’s religious history, and also to foreshadow what lie ahead for Jesus. For Jesus there would be challenge, and suffering, and difficulty, but also great meaning, and joy, and love, and the hope of a life lived for more than just himself.

Salome was the daughter of Herodias. Herodias was the niece and sister-in-law of Herod Antipas. Their romantic/sexual relationship flew in the face of both conventional morality and Jewish religious law. From all evidence available, there was a lot of family dysfunction, and corruption in Herod’s household. Salome danced for Herod at his birthday feast, and so “pleased” him that he offered her anything she liked, even up to half of his kingdom. Following her mother’s agenda, Salome asked for the head of John the Baptist. Traditional religious art often depicts this gruesome scene.

If John the Baptist is for us an archetype of the brave prophet who denounces the excesses of those in power, without counting the personal cost, then Herod Antipas is a representative symbol of the dangers inherent in unbridled, dictatorial rule. As my childhood hero, Spiderman used to say, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Has anyone seen the special Inauguration issue of the Spiderman comic that features an adventure with President-elect Obama?