True power

12 July 2015
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 10B (RCL)
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

We assume that Michal despises David because she sees him dancing with abandon before the Lord, and even that he shows off his underwear in the dancing. However, he does something much more egregious in this passage. We are told that he distributes to every man and woman in the whole multitude of Israel a loaf of bread, a cake of raisins and a portion of roasted meat. Women received sacrificial meat (so, any meat) through their men — their fathers if they were unmarried, or the husbands if married. Hence, the plight of widows. David is effectively claiming all the women of Israel as his own, either daughters or wives. No wonder Michal despised him.

Herod Antipas claims a similar kind of power in our reading from the Gospel. He had married his half-brother’s wife, Herodias. Herodias was the grand-daughter of Herod the Great, and had initially married Herod (not Antipas), her father’s half-brother. Antipas also a half-brother of Herod (not the Great, but Herodias’ first husband) divorced his own wife and wooed Herodias and married her. At court, apparently, nearly anything goes. Mark tells us that John the Baptist had disapproved of Antipas’ marriage (though Josephus does not tell us that).

We miss something of this story by reading it in isolation. Mark surrounds it with the narrative of Jesus sending out the twelve and of their return. This is another Marcan sandwich (intercalation), where the inside story interprets the outside story. When Jesus sends out the twelve, he instructs them to carry not coin and no extra bread, not even a cloak to sleep under — they are completely dependent upon the hospitality of strangers. Mark narrates that they cast out many demons and anointed many with oil and healed them. When they return, they report to Jesus all they had done. They had been announcing the kingdom and teaching that the people needed to repent.

The kingdom they are announcing stands in stark contrast to the behavior of Herod Antipas (whom Mark calls king). While Herod marries whom he wills, promises up to half of his kingdom as a gift for a dance at a banquet, and then beheads John the Baptist, whom he respects but doesn’t understand to avoid shame, the disciples eat what is put before them, anoint many with oil, cast out demons and announce the kingdom. The power of the kingdom they are announcing stands in stark contrast to Herod’s power.

The power of depending on hospitality, accepting the gifts of others and restoring local covenant community (cast out demons suggests restoring shattered social institutions) overcomes Herod’s power. When Herod hears of what Jesus and his disciples are doing, he assumes that Jesus is John come back to life; the same John who preached repentance and attracted great crowds at the Jordan. Herod is perplexed, both at John and at Jesus. Here is something he doesn’t understand.

The kingdom is subversive, out on the road, two-by-two, restoring hope, establishing table fellowship and overcoming the power of those who appear to be kings.

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