Posts Tagged ‘lectionary’

Are We Bound By a System?


In Mark 6:14-29, we learn that Herod is haunted by thoughts of John the Baptist because he ordered John’s beheading despite himself. Are the forces that led to Herod making this choice that different from forces still at work in our world today?

Lectionary Thoughts for July 12, 2015
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Text: Mark 6:14-29 (Quotations here are from the NRSV)

“The king was deeply grieved” by his daughter’s request for the head of John the Baptist (v 26) because “he liked to listen to him” (v 20). Up until this point he had protected John the Baptist from his wife’s grudge against him (vs 19-20).

What changed in this incident that he would retract his favor from a man he feared, revered, protected, and liked listening to (v 20)?

“Out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her” (vs 23, 26). 

He gave his daughter a wide open promise that she could have anything she asked for (v 23). And he had witnesses to this promise he had made—for he made the promise in front of his guests. Honor was at stake.

If this happened to one of us, we’d probably clarify that we meant “anything within reason,” or “anything *you* want, not what your mother tells you to ask for.” And everyone would understand the limits implied in such a promise.

We would not have to worry about disgrace for refusing the girl’s request. But that was exactly what Herod was facing. Refusing the request would have been to disgrace himself and to disgrace his guests. How could they ever trust his word thereafter?

I imagine he got considerably more careful about the promises he made after that. But this one, he had to keep.

He just had to.

Even though Herod liked to listen to John’s teaching…

He just had to go through with it.

He was bound by the system of which he was a part. In Herod’s case it was the system of honor and shame. He would not go back on his word; the honor and shame system required him to keep his word in order to keep his honor and to maintain the honor of his guests.

Who of us can do better when we remain bound to systems that conflict with our values?

It is easy for us as outsiders looking into the honor and shame system to say we wouldn’t do that. We can see a different path because we are not bound to that system in the same way. We critique it from a safe distance.

But are we so scrupulous, so savvy about the systems to which we are bound?

Do we even recognize them?

Dylan Roof sat for an hour in Bible study. He almost didn’t go through with his plan.

But he just had to.

Even though the group was so nice…

He just had to go through with it.

He too was bound by a system—some system in which he had only one choice that made any sense to him.

That system of thought rose up among us, on our soil, in our land.

It’s harder when it’s so close to home to see ourselves as bound to a system that would extinguish life in order to preserve the system.

Do we even recognize it?

If You Say So: Reflecting on These Holy Days

IMG_0561A basin of water, a fresh-baked loaf of bread, wine ready to be poured out, these are things we can get our hands on. These tangible things wash over us, fill our mouths, and warm us with the love of God.

God’s love is so deep it can’t be contained in a basin, a basket or a cup. It overflows all over the place, all over this whole world.

Jesus invites his followers to be a part of sharing that love. In fact he gives it as a new commandment (or “mandate” from which we get the term “Maundy Thursday).

Jesus says, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another,” (John 13:34).

Yes, Lord. If you say so, we know it is good and right to do. We know it is right because you showed us. We know it is right because you did it first.

We know it is right, but do we do it? Do we really love as Jesus first loved us?

It is one thing to do to others as you would have them to do to you. We can weigh and measure such things.

Would I want my friend to talk to me in that tone of voice? Would I want my colleague to ignore a deadline? Would I want my son to flippantly say, “I don’t know“?

That kind of loving we understand. We may not always like it, but when we bring these questions to mind we can see a way forward.

This new commandment though, to love as Jesus loves? How do we even measure that kind of love? Even if we do take pause to think about the implications for that in our lives, how do we even begin to love that much?

The only way we could possibly begin to love that much is when we ourselves are completely overwhelmed with Jesus’ love in our lives.

That’s why we keep getting our feet washed, why we keep eating bread and drinking wine.

That’s why we keep returning to the cross. That’s why Good Friday is “good.”

We keep these rituals and practices to absorb the magnificence of Jesus’ love for us. And as we ourselves are immersed in that love, we are filled with it and we exude it and can’t help but overflow with it.

May God be with you in your observance of these holy days, as you experience the love of Jesus, soak in it, eat all the crumbs, and lap it up. May you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste his love as you return to the cross. May you be assured to the depths of your being that his love conquers death.

May his love fill you to overflowing.

To listen to an audio version of this reflection that I recorded for the Life & Liberty podcast click the overflowing fountain below: 


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