Mark 6:33

Many people saw them going, and recognized them, and from all the towns they flocked together to the place on foot, and got there before them.

leaving on a slow sailboat
when people can see
more than half-way
to another shore
reduces the options
for a surprise arrival

in the face of a felt need
rest and renewal are rebuffed
by our becalmed ruach
we see a growing crowd
tracking our slow progress
frustration takes our words

first retreat delayed
second retreat denied
third xtreme unfairness
fourth agitated muttering
fifth anxious snacking
sixth arrive empty

There are paparazzi and their informants everywhere. If someone has a modicum of celebrity or notoriety about them, their movements are noticed. Jesus has been noticed by Tetrarch Herod and the religious leadership. As wily and wilderness oriented as Jesus is, he keeps getting noticed—after all you can’t fulfill a task of changing hearts and behaviors in a vacuum.

It is not at all surprising that a move toward retreat is noticed. Nothing sells like a picture of a public figure in a skimpy bathing suit. And, secondarily, what better time to ambush a healer for a little personal attention?

Of more interest is Mark’s singular use of the little word “ran” (συντρέχω, syntrechō). It comes from two words that means “run together”. Syn is a primary preposition denoting unity and trechō is a primary verb used to describe the haste involved in a race. Trechō has two other characteristics. First, it can be used metaphorically when there is a peril that requires a focused exertion to deal with it. The human condition is perilous and a running together is needed. Second, trechō can use dremo as an alternative or synonym, meaning the course/career on which life together is run. And so, some number of people run to a place and gather together in anticipation of Jesus’ presence. Sounds like our ideal of Church without various factions battling over a word in the creed or how various teachings can be fruitfully applied in different situations.

Simply running together can transform a competition into a journey as we shift gears from top speed to a conversational gait and refocus personal goals within a larger vision of common good. Running together is a spiritual discipline.

Mark 6:32

So they set off privately in their boat for a lonely spot.

again rhythm again
good report grievous
renewal retreat survival

The Twelve were sent out, two by two, with very specific work to do. When they finally return to relate stories there isn’t much content for us. The reports were out of our earshot and we are left projecting our own reporting styles.

The clergy gatherings I have been in usually have a component of one-upping each other. Tales heard the last time we gathered are retold with a bit of embellishment. New stories, often more about the teller than those involved, find their calculated way into a gathering crescendo of victory in Jesus.

It doesn’t take long for the winners to come to the fore and a pecking order is reestablished. How different were the Twelve with acknowledged favorites by order of selections and/or teacher’s pets according to who gets to go along on various field trips?

Yes, after the tale-telling there was a busy time with people showing up; stories were retold, and the energy of the Twelve was becoming more and more concentrated among the elect. All this seems very natural and even normal.

If we are going to become increasingly inward focused there are two ways to go. One is to return to the road to reload stories of triumphing over evil spirits. Another is to go more deeply into the stories that have been told and peel them back until it is possible to again see themselves as servants with no power. At best they are catalysts where healings and everything can again become possible.

This second option is going to require a significant retreat until the Twelve can catch a clearer view of the tests they have been failing with their competitive spirituality claiming more authority than a simple gift of open compassion that only asks to see more in others than we can see in ourselves.

This needs some care as it will be easy to bend over backwards to simply be a vessel of G*D’s power without actually being a partner. This false humility is as dangerous as false pride.

Jesus and the Twelve are off to find a wilderness place in which a communal retreat can take place. While there is building expectation of even more authority in which to be anointed, there is also a sense of a need for self and mutual regulation. “Come away” becomes a hypnotist’s code phrase for rebalancing.

Mark 6:31

“Come by yourselves privately to some lonely spot,” he said, “and rest for a while” – for there were so many people coming and going that they had not time even to eat.

what a hubbub
so many stories
joy set loose
assurance brimming

one by one
two by two
olive branches
tell a larger tale

there is still
fertile ground
seeded from anon
watered by tears

a word here
adjustment there
it has been
our great honor

slowly a new normal
elan simply expected
brings a next awareness
I’m tired and happy

a huddled mass
regardless of buoyancy
still has needs
let’s honor them

hi-ho hi-ho
its off to feast
we go
come on along

As a member of Kairos CoMotion, I am always intrigued when “kairos” rolls around as it does with εὐκαιρέω (eukaireō). Other translations say there was no leisure to eat.

When an opportune, suitable, propitious and timely time is not the present time, it is past time for a retreat into deep wilderness for renewal of your eyes to be able to see a right moment in every moment.

It is instructive to see that the previous use of this word is used to describe the opportunity Herod took to have his birthday bash and subsequent feast and dance and death of John. This gives pause to consider how like Herod the inner circle of Jesus became as they found themselves challenged by circumstances beyond their imagination and control when Jesus’ arrest comes out of the blue. They experience the same inability as Herod to change a course of events.

We get so caught up in the comings and goings in our life that we loose focus on what is next. This leaves us prey to past experiences and trying to replicate them. As we glory in our stories of success we find we need to keep embellishing them, like a story about any caught fish, until we lose track of our growth edges being attracted by a pull into a tomorrow based on the amount of heaven we are able to establish on earth today.

Where do you need to go today to renew your leisure license? A part of being an apostle is tracking opportunities already available.

Mark 6:30

When the apostles came back to Jesus, they told him all that they had done and all that they had taught.

in the meantime
while others are losing
heads and all attached
these have been healing
not to mention teaching
infusing the poor
imparting strength
encouraging perspective

first only authorized
to touch to anoint to do
a wisdom found in experience
rose from previously laid hints
fingers must have their say
even if sister tongue translates
healings aura is more than color
demarcating can’t from will

meddling with mouth and hand
is always available
no matter the constraint
regardless of station
unfettered from ambition
routinized amid fear
told we’re not beautiful
a favorable day is here

This is the only place in Mark where we find the word “apostle”. Mann301 says, “It indicates a time when the word had fairly specific functional meanings, carrying the sense of commissioning for work associated with Jesus himself (e.g., preaching and exorcism).”

Well, we are now back at the ranch. Remember the twelve who had been sent out, commissioned, to have authority over unclean spirits? Adjunct to this, they also preached repentance and anointed with oil. People were “cured”.

Those who sense a call to join with the Jesus story today might well wrestle with the healing ministry of the twelve apostles. What would keep this from being a part of what it means for them to “fish for people”?

It will be easy to discount the authority issue in favor of simply preaching or using a liturgical technology such as oil. Where stories of healing abound, there is less dust shaking than where this foundational matter is avoided. [No, there is no double-blind study about this, just a flat out assertion awaiting testing.]

Having a new title, Apostle, was just enough to go to the heads of the Twelve. Store these few lines away for in three chapters there will be a long teaching for the Twelve Apostles about ranking within the community. You might already be wondering how the crowds would react to knowing that moving from being a part of a crowd to an official follower of Jesus will bring greater demands not privileges.

Mark 6:29

When John’s disciples heard of it, they came and took his body away, and laid it in a tomb.

the force is disturbed
disciples gather
as nothing takes
a pound of flesh

a keening voice
jagged above dark below
slowly rises in register
calling back calling loss

crying while shuffling
around a now still center
walled with death distance
until anchored facing inward

resolute without permission
an empty one is lifted
quietly carried low
to temple’s center

in the face of nothing
a body laid in its hole
effects an expansion delay
joined to others awaiting another

disciples gather
shards of spirit
to be generously sown
reweighting mercy

Well, there is a postscript to the story of John’s beheading. It also provides a presentiment of a later death and burial.

Bratcher201 notes, “Came is probably better rendered as ‘went’, unless one wishes to portray the writer Mark as narrating from Herod’s court.” The Greek ἔρχομαι (erchomai) is one of those tricky words that usually means “come” or “revealed” but can mean “go” or “follow”.

It might also be noted that the specific of being headless is not part of John’s being dead to his body. This, of course, begs for more stories about what happened to John’s head after it was taken from him. Those interested in a variety of options can get an overview at: of_St_John_the_Baptist#Relics

This may be a place to review the whole story and wonder about John’s disciples from the time of his arrest. If Herod’s enthrallment with John went any distance, there may have been others engaged along the way who may have interceded with Herod to make possible the attainment and burial of what was left of John. Did John have secret disciples or did his in-your-face approach not allow for fence-sitters?

In the end we have a conquering Herodias stalking off with John’s head and John’s disciples recovering John’s body. Matthew has them then coming to tell Jesus, but Mark leaves this detail hanging.

Mark 6:28

and, bringing his head on a dish, gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother.

death by order is orderly
one step at a time
deepens the plot
one step at a time
builds tension
one step at a time
a final solution holds
one step at a time
realization sets in
one step at a time
consequences arrive
one step at a time
next choices arrive
one step at a time
hearts are hardened
one step at a time
repentance settles in
one step at a time
we choose who WE ARE

In a banquet setting, the detail of a plate or platter suggests a next gruesome course that could only be supplied from Mrs. Lovett and her Pie Shop, connected by a tunnel to Sweeny Todd’s Barbershop, which is next to St. Dunstan’s church.

We have cut out the middle-man, Herod. John’s head goes from a soldier of the guard to the girl to her mother, turned from being the butt of a joke to a preying mantis in a move too quick for eye or mind to comprehend.

Ironically, it won’t be all that long before Herod and Herodias are no longer rulers. Josephus strongly implies their demotion was directly tied to John’s beheading.

For now we are back again with some grudging respect for the careful preparations made by all those who have an obsession with their perceived status in life. This is something that cuts across the artificial secular/religious boundaries. Those who will use the rules of the game—a slip of the king’s lips or ever more detailed purity codes—position themselves to always have the advantage be theirs.

The disciples themselves and religious leaders in their wake have played the same game of Now I’ve Got You—that ends up with someone else having enough demerits attributed to them that, when G*D grades on a curve, the most astute rule-player can be on the Heaven side of the line. Arguments about who is the greatest, who gets assigned a position of prestige, who gets paid the most for their inside information, and more, go on and on.

A story that started with Herod acting to arrest John ends with Herodias being the power behind the throne that ends John’s arrest with death. Jesus is not to be found in this long story. Was it a glorified car chase needed to make this a blockbuster? A shaggy-dog tale?

Mark 6:27

He immediately dispatched one of his bodyguard, with orders to bring John’s head. The man went and beheaded John in the prison,

action has been fast and furious
offers presented consultations taken
decisions made and made and made
each individual step in the process
finding its place in a scheme
brooking no alternative

when this flurry subsides
a judgment that will haunt
quickly moves to conclude
an order given
order completed
life lost

…Mark enjoyed great historical freedom in writing the story of John’s death. This has led to considerable scholarly discussion concerning the story’s literary form. Some see it as a legend, others as a piece of midrash, a type of traditional narrative commentary. I suggest it be read as a historical parable, a story with its roots in history but which allows full play to the author’s creativity….it must not be reduced to a lesson or theological point. The whole story must be held up to the reader’s imagination.          ~LaVerdiere164

The straight forward, compact telling, makes it seem like a fait accompli—over and done. Too bad, but what can you do. Best to just continue on. Don’t linger here lest we begin to taste John’s blood as our brother’s and seek revenge.

It is at such a point, urged to walk past, that we need to journey more deeply into this wilderness that will test our anger and willingness to avenge this death, an eye-for-an-eye.

A little child led to this. Her “happy dance” (at least as possible as seductive writhing) gone awry stuns us—as do children suicide bombers we see on TV.

To better reveal this verse, pause to consider how you would stage these simple, declarative words. As you do so, hold this advice from Swanson196-197 in mind:

To play this scene wisely…remember the game of “Six Degrees of Separation.” …the chances are disturbingly good that someone in the audience will be connected to someone closely involved with recent beheadings.…you must play the scene aware of what intense pain might be involved, and you must play the scene knowing that your audience will be watching for any sign of irresponsibility in your treatment. Any story that is real and true will touch matters of life and death. Do not play with such issues heedlessly. Touch them reverently and wisely.

Mark 6:26

The king was much distressed; yet, because of his oath and of the guests at his table, he did not like to refuse her.

simply being upset at injustice
is insufficient energy
to shift gears to needed work
building a mercy hedge
around earth’s wretched

waves of influence battle each other
roiling a kindness-sinking maelstrom
image in other’s eyes comes first
violently denying alternatives
to position based on power

the right of kings
is a right never wrong
once said is enough
an open mouth carves stone
there is no appeal

Herod had many an enlivening conversation with John while constrained to imprison John lest more people would get riled up with the charge John brought against Herod and Herodias.

There is an important image of a “weeping executioner”. This is a term attributed to Dr. Walt Herbert, emeritus professor of English at Southwestern University. A weeping executioner is one who expresses concern for the oppressed, but will not leave their place in the hierarch of oppression. It was used to good effect by Rev. Amy DeLong after her church trial in 2011. [Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism, by R.W. Holmen545]

No matter how many times you tell your story, there are those who love to hear the telling and are emotionally touched without ever moving from a feeling of repentance toward a change in behavior. Whether you are “upset”, “very sad”, or “deeply grieved” about ordering another’s death (Herod) or simply wash your hands of it and move on to a next order of business (Pilate), the end result is the same—death.

Perkins599 affirms, “Willingness to sacrifice others to maintain honor, prestige, and power remains one of the great temptations of persons in positions of authority.” The difficulty is that we often don’t understand what authority we have and how boldly we can honor others and what power we have to be in solidarity with them. This is not just a matter for those currently in the position of an occupier. Whether a dancing girl, the proverbial Joe Blow, or a weekly pew-sitter, this is the source of every transformation and a next Axial Age. How we practice partnership with others will reveal our changed life.

Mark 6:25

So she went in as quickly as possible to the king, and made her request. “I want you,” she said, “to give me at once, on a dish, the head of John the Baptist.”

a demanding child
is not to be trifled with
no matter where its orders
and testing of limits of enough
rose to rule the day

both weal and bane
come with an immediacy mode
pushing to overcome limits
able to use every pressure point
to evade process and dictate

without knowing it
through a surfeit of pleasure
or denial of ever-present wilderness
tests are always underway
a satan’s task never ends

out of an implied generosity
comes an unexpected consequence
catching us too far off guard
to respond with anything but
que sera sera

when so caught
there is never felt time
to retreat for clarity
past patterns take over
dies are cast death ensues

And, BANG, the girl is back with an imperious voice. This is a “request” that suggests turning it down will get you a horse’s head in your bed.

What we don’t easy envision is the spectacle this is leading to. Compare this with three other “head” stories.

Giant Goliath fell to a round stone flung from David’s sling. David proceeded to cut his head off and parade it to Jerusalem. This changed the power relationship between Philistines and Israelites, between Saul (present king) and David (future king). [1 Samuel 17:51–57]

David’s bosom buddy, Absalon, had long lovely hair he cut once a year (5 pounds worth). While fighting against David’s army his hair was caught in a tree and his mount rode out from under him, leaving him suspended. An easy target, he was summarily killed. A friend grieved is still a friend dead. [2 Samuel 14:26; 18:9–14; 18:33 or 19:1]

Judith played the temptress game with King Holofernes and, after a kingly feast, when he was drunk in his own tent, beheaded him with his own sword. Holofernes’ head went into her food bag and was taken back to the Israelite army, whereupon they routed the Assyrians and Judith was given Holofernes’ silver platter and everything belonging to the king. [Judith 13:1-10; 14:11]

Mark 6:24

The girl went out, and said to her mother “What must I ask for?”
“The head of John the Baptizer,” answered her mother.

who am I to make a decision
in a world of top-down power

not even a best friend will do
when dealing with this opportunity

whomever I vest with authority
to direct my life risks my death

what shall I ask means less
than who I ask for guidance

when number one requests
it is only number two to go to

with this deed done
a limit of power is revealed

there is no one without an agenda
when within a circle of power

subservient mostly until an opening
which now becomes a sharp trap

Through experience we mature. This general statement recognizes differing stages of life. There is development of thinking by age that is particularly notable on both ends of a life span. There are also fears and carefully taught prejudices that short-circuit knowing any­thing beyond what we already know.

If this is a pre-teen girl this story is grosser than we first wanted to admit. If it is someone who has settled into their curves and knows how to use them, why would they run to Mama? Do they not have their own calculation of what the equivalent of half-a-kingdom might be for them? All the while we remember this is a patriarchy that devalues women, particularly their intellect, and gives no practice beyond a household economy.

“What should I ask for”, implies a calculus of greed. Somewhere this daughter has learned that, “Mother knows best!”

While this conversation is going on, what do you think is happening back in the feasting room. What is the going rumor about Herod’s offer and the girl’s response of leaving? Is there betting she’ll return and hold Herod to his promise (probably not wise to beard this lion in his own den)? Does everyone at the party know the offer was merely complementary and there is no culturally acceptable response that would do except embarrassed leaving, a simple, “You do me great honor with your offer”, or a request for a token?