When I read these daily passages, I was not immediately filled with hope, but rather much challenge. “Blessed are those who fear the Lord” is often a difficult prayer for me. With all the struggles in the world it is easy to fear illness, famine, and war, but God? I do contemplate an end time and want my life to speak for my values and the call God has given me, but living each day fearing God is not on my mind.
More honestly, I fear those who act without God, without consulting God. In this Gospel passage, Herod acted in spite of his affection for John the Baptist, in spite of his deep distress. He orders an execution to maintain honor and to please his family. This pressure seems common in our lives and in our world. State executions, wars and many other acts of violence are mandated and executed by rulers of our day. I am sure many feel the same inner rumbling, the same distress that Herod felt.
On an individual level, I have to consciously acknowledge and work to forgive grudges that may reside in me such as the one mentioned in today’s readings. The warning given today seems not just to warn those such as Herod, but also those of us who may harbor grudges like Herodias. I still see God stirring our insides, trying to call us to act to intervene, to forgive and to recognize God’s presence in our world and in our modern day prophets.
Just before Mark’s passage for today, Jesus is missioning the twelve. Jesus sends them out with almost nothing to travel and preach. He cautions them, “Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” The disciples went and, “drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” Then we continue reading to learn what happens to one prophet, John the Baptist.
This passage says that when Herod “heard him (John) speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him.” Herod is said to fear John, “knowing him to be a righteous and holy man.” Because of Herodias’ grudge, John was first imprisoned. Herod, in a moment of appreciation, offers one demand to his niece. She and her mother exploit this offer to demand the death of this prophet. Regarding the demand for execution, “the king was deeply distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her.”
Inner rumblings did not yield results here. While Herod acknowledges the compelling way that John spoke and preached the kingdom of God, he did not trust the inner voice that was attracted by John or the great distress he felt in executing the demand. In wanting to be perceived as honorable, he did not have the courage to follow his own heart, to follow God’s invitation. Herod did not find a diplomatic way to escape the pressure of this situation, to meet needs and save face.
Sometimes we are so caught up in maintaining a grudge or in honor that we cannot dream of another solution. At these times we choose not to collaborate with God. God’s call rumbling inside of us, causing deep distress is a call to find an alternative. It is important for us to trust our gut and to have a firm resolve to not comply with something that we do not feel ok with. We have to actively allow God’s peace, forgiveness and love to flow from us. For me this includes recognizing grudges and working actively to dissipate them even if I have not been asked for forgiveness. It is hard to recognize the power a grudge has on our well-being, on our actions until it has seemingly taken a great hold on us. As part of my prayer today in light of these readings, I am asking myself what grudges I harbor. Additionally, what do I do daily in compliance of orders? To maintain honor? Are there things, no matter how insignificant, I do without hesitation, without checking my gut, without consulting with God in prayer? What do I need to ask for courage to act on?
Paying attention to our distress, finding God’s voice in any situation that seems impossible is a difficult invitation. There is still much violence in our world. It seems to only grow, with an increasing need for a critical mass of people to speak their distress and to find an alternative. It may start with our own life, with our family and workplace. It also needs to radiate to our prisons, to our legislatures, to our world leaders. Until then, “May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.”
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