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?

Mark 6:23

and he swore to her that he would give her whatever she asked him – up to half his kingdom.

evaluating our sphere of influence
is a never-ending task
continually getting bogged down
on physical boundaries
to be opened or walled off

what usually is over-looked
are intangibles eliciting joy
caught on the materials of life
we never consider their consequences
substituting surface for depth

who wouldn’t offer half their value
for a moment of lingering pleasure
by half is meant geography not friends
is meant treasure not learning
is meant life-time not healthy ego

It is very easy to say more than we mean. This is part of the energy behind every canon. Time and again, every question needs a definitive answer; no response will do, only a binary decision—“it is this way, not that way”.

Having set a public promise, public figures have a very difficult time modifying their position in light of subsequent information. They and all get trapped with both a righteous ego and fear of loss of status should our first word not also be our last word.

Swearing, here, is not cursing, but a vow, a placing a hand on a sacred object or over one’s heart or sharing blood that what is said will be literally followed to the letter and part of a letter. Once this is witnessed, it will bring with it predictably dire consequences.

Wright76 reminds us of the banality of evil, best described by Hannah Arendt’s, Eichman in Jerusalem;

The casual, accidental nature of the event gives an extra dimension to the tragedy, a belittling of the noble and lonely prophet.

If royalty, sex and religion form such an explosive mixture, we shouldn’t be surprised at the chequered history of court intrigue, scandal and disaster that have dogged the steps of the church ever since royalty became interested in Christianity.

Like Herod, the church, in turn, can be sworn at, cursed, for the ways it has sworn allegiance to its own—bishops forced into creedal statements, denial of physical/scientific realities, crusades of many sorts, divine right of rulers, just war theory, sexism, patriarchy….

Mark 6:22

When his daughter – that is, the daughter of Herodias – came in and danced, she delighted Herod and those who were dining with him. “Ask me for whatever you like,” the king said to the girl, “and I will give it to you”;

failed again
thinking the time ripe for release
we awake
finding our deep pleasure a risky spot
impetuously committed
commanding what we have no right to

smooth dancing
thinking life more generous than it is
pleases eyes
finding life’s limits set aside in wonder
a perceptual trick
commanding manipulation become high art

thrilled by joy
thinking my feast my friends
exhausted by joy
finding political traps cunningly laid
betrayed by joy
commanding our own downfall.

It is easy to chalk this up to besotted male leaders and a fetching dancing girl. The text makes it difficult with the best reading probably being that the dancer was the daughter of Herodias. History and/or tradition also sneaks its nose in here with references to Herod’s step-daughter, Salome, and, later, an addition of seven veils.

However, presuming the cultural mores of this time and place, it is unlikely that a female relative would be allowed to reveal the sexual rawness needed to elicit the reported response from Herod.

It is not necessary to go the lascivious route as explanation of Herod’s offer to ask extravagantly. His willingness to be intrigued with John can also suggest an appreciation for nuance and suggestion. A-thing-forever-beauty can appear in a moment in the strangest and least expected places, just like leadership partnered with G*D coming from the youngest rather than oldest.

As we listen in there are enough connections with Judith, Esther, and Jezebel to hear this story revealing realities beyond a transition from John to Jesus, right in the middle of a practicum of the Twelve. No matter the good healing they do, one on one or several at a time, structural and institutional power continues mistaking short-term personal desire and gain for long-term community growth that essentially guarantees there will be increasing numbers of people in need of the anointing and exorcism skills of Jesus and those joined with him.