King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
We’ll tell this grisly tale in two parts.
The last time we heard about John, he had just been arrested. In fact, it was in this ominous environment that Jesus began his own ministry. And we knew that that likely spelled trouble. One prophet gone; another to take his place.
Now we get a little more of the story. In fact, we jump to the end of the story, Mark announcing through characters that John is dead. In the next half of this scene, Mark, now that he has our attention, will fill in the details of John’s death, providing the back-story to today’s scene.
We’ll get there shortly. But what intrigues me in this passage is the speculation Jesus’ ministry creates and, in particular, the guilt-induced fear it creates in Herod. Herod is, of course, one of the most powerful and privileged persons of his generation, yet he is not immune from the dread created by his guilt for the death of John.
This scene reminds me a bit of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” where the murderer in the story, after committing what he believes is “the perfect crime,” is driven mad by what he believes to be the beating of his victim’s heart until he confesses his crime to the police.
Guilt does that – it drives one to a state of anxiety, and then fear, and then absolute dread. It makes it hard to interact with others as it constricts your worldview so narrowly that all you can see is your concerns, your suspicions, your vulnerability, your risk. In the end, holding your secret so tightly, all you can think about is the likelihood of being found out and your desperate wish to avoid it. As Geoffrey Chaucer once said, “The guilty think all talk is of themselves.”
This is why, I think, confession and absolution is such an important part of the worship service. No, we might not have committed murder, but we have hurt others that are important to us, have failed to care for others as we would wish to be care for, have disappointed others and ourselves in how we use our time and resources. We, too, experience moments of guilt and fear. But each week we gather in church and hear that God forgives all of that and creates in us and for us new possibilities for life and health. Nor does this have to be limited to Sundays. Martin Luther often counseled that every time we wash with water we remind ourselves of God’s promise to us in Baptism to forgive us all things, to love us to the end of time, and to draw us back in fellowship with God and all people.
If only Herod had a confessor!
Prayer: Dear God, free us to confess our hurts, disappointments, and failures so that we might hear once again and believe your promise to forgive us, love us, and restore us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.