Ps. 85; Amos 7:7-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29
Plan, [God] has made known … his purpose … set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him … (vv. 9, 10a).
Amos’ “plumb-line” vision speaks to a divided church’s dysfunction, and God’s plan for its reconstruction; a prophesy of Christ in the church. Structural projects; broken foundations, crumbling walls, and interiors require demolition, new fabrication, and refitting.
Centuries before Amos, Israel’s ten northern tribes seceded from union with Judah, carving out an independent kingdom, calling itself, “Israel”, the name God bestowed on all his people.
King Jeroboam ben Nebat promptly erected shrines atop pagan “high places” at Bethel and Dan, alternate places of worship to Jerusalem’s temple commanded for Israel’s unified worship (Dt. 12:1-7; 2 Sam. 6; 1 Kgs. 6-8).
Unlike other mid-east monarchs, YHWH was Israel’s true king. Prophets and priests, when required were to “speak Truth to power”, bringing errant kings to repentance when they strayed as servants of the Lord, Torah, and people.
JB, condemning Herod-Antipas for an illicit marriage to his half-brother’s wife, followed in the prophetic tradition: Moses commanded Pharaoh, “let [the] people go”; Nathan condemned David for murdering Uriah to acquire his wife, Bathsheba; Elijah confronted Ahab and Jezebel, killing her 450 Baal priests imported into “Israel’s” worship life; and Amos prophesied against “Israel” for Jeroboam II’s and Amaziah’s continuing departure from unified temple worship in Jerusalem.
Just as Jezebel hatred Elijah; Herodias wanted JB dead; but Herod feared the prophetic office. When he listened to the Baptist, he was “greatly perplexed; and yet he heard him gladly” (Mk. 6:19, 20); Herod intended to kept John safe from his wife’s rage in prison.
Recognize here, that JB’s martyrdom is not the principal issue of today’s Gospel; rather his imprison and decapitation is prophetic of Jesus’ passion and crucifixion; God’s “Plumb-line” for his church’s true unity.
Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection is God’s “plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him”. The Baptist’s bloody death was concluding coda of his herald, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29).
Church restoration is not only toward God; but with brothers and sisters at Table. All of us, in the church, continue the sins of Adam and Cain; infidelity, murder, and covetousness toward one another. In repentance for faith’s forgiveness, we have our unity in Christ, partaking of his body and blood, the basis of God’s dominion and power in heaven and earth.
“The sin of the world” is failure to trust God’s promises; and continued unbelief in Christ singularly results in condemnation. (Mk. 16:16). Here we may reflect on last Sunday’s Nazareth visitation. St. Mark reports, Jesus was “dumbfounded” at his neighbors’ lack of faith (6:6); Jesus, the incarnate Speech of God, by unbelief was rendered mute. St. John, “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not” (Jn. 1:11).
Today’s Gospel provides graphic prophesy the cross of men seeking the silence of God’s Lamb: JB’s severed head, bloody gaping mouth on a platter for birthday fare; surely a satanic mock prequel of cross and Christian Supper.
Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, one time ally of Henry II, held allegiance to the church over friendship with his king. Henry would impose his will over the church; Becket like Amos and JB opposed the king, inciting Henry, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Henry’s nobles assassinated Becket.
We, like Jeroboam II, Herod Antipas, Henry, and unbelieving Nazareth, prefer God’s silence to his “meddlesome” words that exert sovereignty and correctives in our lives.
Herod wanted to protect JB from Herodias by imprisoning him; Pilate tried to save Jesus with a sop scourging; still the crowd demanded, “Crucify him”. Sinful men prefer “a Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4) who permits us self-autonomy while claiming kingdom citizenship; it cannot be so.
Jesus is not man’s construct; rather he is God’s “Plumb-line” for gospel reign in his church to share his persecution (Mk. 10:38, 39; Mt. 5:10, Alleluia verse). The church has one King who invites all into his death and rising to new life in his flesh. On the Last Day he will turn-over his kingdom to God to be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28).
Herodias and Salome despised the word from JB; but Herod heard John in fear. Still his lust for his stepdaughter and his wife’s manipulation drove him from excitation to depression and to murder; such is the role of sex in history.
Herod styled himself “king” (really tetrarch) but was hamstrung by a drunken-lascivious promise to a teen-party girl. Herod’s double-mindedness reflects our sin nature; apart from God’s gospel “Plumb-line” with his church, we too at “sixes and sevens”, incapable of physical, emotional, and psychological autocracy.
Herod would have to decide between face-saving before his nobles, and saving JB. When we choose the world’s respect, we may well do so at the expense of our souls (8:36). Despite Herod’s initial attraction to the reign of God, worldly thorns, brambles, and thistles choked off the Word to unbelief and murder (4:18, 19).
St. Paul praises the crucified Seed germinating in hearts chosen from the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). Gracious election implants God’s word for hearing before the only righteous King (Rom. 2:29).
By the Spirit’s sword (Eph. 6:17) we are continually sealed into Jesus’ death (1:13). The water, the blood, and the Spirit (1 Jn. 5:6, 7) witness God’s miraculous work in Baptism for submission to his will by faith in Christ, uniting all things in him.
Baptism death transforms self-absorbed, autonomous, and autocratic hearts into Jesus’ death. Entering the church, the place of God’s “Plumb-line”, we desire more and more Word, from faith to faith; the Lord’s Supper keeping us safe to the end. Amen.