Saturday, August 05, 2017

Mighty Powers Are at Work

This fiftieth year you shall make sacred by proclaiming liberty in the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you when every one of you shall return to his own property, everyone to his own family estate. In this fiftieth year, your year of jubilee, you shall not sow, nor shall you reap the aftergrowth or pick the grapes from the untrimmed vines. Since this is the jubilee, which shall be sacred for you, you may not eat of its produce, except as taken directly from the field. Leviticus 25:10-12

Herod the tetrarch heard of the reputation of Jesus and said to his servants, "This man is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him." Now Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, for John had said to him, "It is not lawful for you to have her."  Matthew 14:1-4

Receive me, Lord, as you have promised, and I shall live; do not disappoint me in my hope (Ps 118[119]: 116). 

Receive me, Lord, as you have promised, and I shall live; do not disappoint me in my hope. 

Receive me, Lord, as you have promised, and I shall live; do not disappoint me in my hope.

Following the law was an important part of the religious and secular culture in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. The jubilee year provisions detailed in Leviticus spell out many of these decrees – some connected with the release of debts in the Jubilee year. John the Baptist never got his debts forgiven for speaking truth to power.  Frankly, everyone knew that Herod’s behavior violated the law (Leviticus 18:16).  Yet it seems that only John spoke up and that got him in trouble with the “powers that be.”

The juxtaposition of religious rules that also applied to the King created special tensions. The list of rules in Leviticus prohibited Herod from marrying the widow of his half-brother so he wanted to get John the Baptist out of the way and prevent a feared rebellion. Although Herod seems reluctant to kill John, he gives in to the demands of his wife and daughter.

In Matthew: The Gospel of Identity, Matthew Card writes: “To avoid being humiliated in front of his guests, Herod concedes to [his wife’s and daughter’s] demand, and the greatest prophet of all time dies a ludicrous death, his head chopped off and given to a dancing girl.”

What was going through John’s heart as he walked his final steps?  He knew the only mighty power he had to love and follow was a higher power than Herod. Perhaps he was praying one of the Psalms he knew so well. Receive me, Lord, as you have promised, and I shall live; do not disappoint me in my hope

John’s solitude in prison is over. Jesus’ attempt to mourn his cousin’s death in solitude is over. Although Jesus wants to retreat into solitude, he cannot. The death of John the Baptist leaves him on stage alone and from here, unfolds of the first pre-eucharistic mystery when Jesus feeds the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish foreshadowing.

The public events and actions that lead to Jesus’ confrontation with the law and another ruler and his solitary march up Calvary now fully commence.

From the laws in Leviticus to the parking ticket we might get on the streets of Fairfax to the red-light cameras in the district, our behavior is both governed by external laws from the body politic and from the church. However, we all also have an internal moral compass.   

When Herod went to sleep the night before this party, do you think he had any idea what role his adultery would play in salvation history the next day?

When the people of Hiroshima went to sleep on August 5, do you think they had any idea about the role they would play in the eventual outcome of the war and the march of nuclear weapons in history?

When the Enola Gay's 12-man crew hit their bunks on the night of August 5, 1945, the night before they dropped that bomb called Little Boy, do you think that any of them had an inkling about the level of death and destruction they would unleash the next day?  They must have known something because they did not arm that bomb until they were in flight to Japan from Tinian atoll in case there was a mishap on the runway during take-off. President Harry Truman must have known what he was unleashing because in calling for Japan to surrender, he warned them to "expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth." 

Do you think these players wittingly or unwittingly had any of the kinds of reservations that Herod had about not killing John the Baptist? 

What do you do when your internal compass points in the opposite direction of what the law requires?  Will you swim upstream or go with the flow?  If we march to the tune of a different drummer, we might have to pay the consequences.

No comments: