Our reading this week ought to give us great comfort. John the Baptist has been called to proclaim the coming of the Messiah. His life has been consecrated utterly to God. And what does John get for His faithfulness, for his determination to obey God? We read about his reward this week. He gets imprisoned. He gets examined by the king. Finally, at the whim of a girl and her mom, he loses his head and his life. It is not the fairy tale ending that the world demands. It also might not be the answer that we want. You mean if I follow God, I might get imprisoned and beheaded?
In a way, Mark’s story of John the Baptist’s death serves to keep us grounded in the real world. Yes, Jesus has given us the Great Commission. Yes, He has sent us out to preach salvation in His name and to bring healing and restoration to the world. Yes, we can accomplish amazing things in His name. But, as Herod and Herodias reminds us, the world does not care. In fact, the world and even His Church is often rebelling aganst the only One who can save them.
As we learned this week, John the Baptist is killed. Though Herod knows that John is a holy man, though Herod knows that complicity in John’s death will cost him dearly with the Lord, Herod chooses to allow John’s death. The plans of Herodias finally come to fruition. And, seemingly, all is lost.
Yet, in our passage from last week we learn an important lesson. God is always raising up more to follow. Where John has gone first, preaching repentence to Israel, twelve more have now been sent by Jesus. Herod, the very representative of the powers of Rome, has allowed an innocent man to be killed. Seemingly all is lost. But twelve men have returned rejoicing that they have been given enormous responisbility and power! Theirs is the mission of bringing into peoples lives the Gospel of health and salvation in the name of Jesus, the Christ.
Sometimes, it is hard for us to see past our sufferings. We want so desperately to experience the fairy tale ending. We want so desperately to live happily ever after. And, we are promised that such will be our story, in His good time. For now, however, we are sent into the world to preach healing in His name, to be salt and light in the world, simply to be faithful. The rest of the work, as it ever has been, is up to God. So, in spite of illness, we proclaim His healing touch. In spite of our our lacks, we proclaim His bounty. In spite of our sins, we proclaim His mercy. And in spite of death, we proclaim the Resurrection eternal life in His presence.
John’s story reminds us that the world can oppose us, that the powers that be can oppose us, that even our loved ones can oppose us. But the story also serves to remind us that God cannot be thwarted by the world. When one of His servants die, God raises him or her to new life, and God sends even more to take their place. So, do I think He will win in the end? If He can ressurect a man from the dead or cause us to talk about the successful beheading of another disciple some 2000 years later, I am certain He can see all of us us safely to the end.