Saving Face, July 13. 2012

Mark 6:26-29
King Herod was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
Once again we’re confronted with the dramatic events of the beheading of the Prophet John the Baptizer. What is interesting to me in this portion of the text is King Herod’s willingness to sacrifice John the Baptist for the sake of saving face in front of his guests. The text says that while it grieved him to do so, he could not bear to deny his daughter (really deny his wife on whose behalf his daughter had made the request) and did not want to embarrass himself in front of his guests.
To our ears this sound horrific and ridiculous. What, I wonder had King Herod thought his daughter might request when he promised her anything she wished? When he promised her half his kingdom?

But how often do we make sacrifices in order to save face? How often do we sacrifice one another, whether because we don’t come to one another’s defense or blame the actions of another for our own failures in life and relationships? It’s a harsh question but one that King Herod dramatically illustrates. Why does the pleasure of his guests win out over the very life of John the Baptist? How do their positions as guests, and their higher ranking social standing make their needs and desires, no matter how foolish, a priority over the life of a wandering Prophet?

King Herod also makes this sacrifice in order to keep the peace of his own household. According to the Gospel of Mark it was his wife Herodias who wished to destroy John the Baptist because he had questioned the morality of her marriage to King Herod. Have you ever sacrificed your own beliefs? Your own intuition? Your own voice in order to maintain a relationship with another person or community? What is the quality of our relationships if we are asked to sacrifice parts of ourselves in order to maintain a relationship?

Self-sacrifice is long held as a necessary part of the Christian life, and I do believe that in living into loving relationships and authentic communities we will make sacrifices. We will be faced with choices and be called upon to discern what to let go of and what to pick up in the process of following Christ. However, I also believe that there is a difference between making scarifies and becoming the sacrifice itself.

Herod forced John the Baptist to pay the price for his need to save face, to be approved of and to maintain relationships. Fair or not, Herod’s wife plays the role, in this version of events, as the enemy of life. She intends to solve conflict with violence, to answer the question John the Baptist raises of her relationship to King Herod with a deathblow.

How can we answer conflict with love and honesty? When we are asked to sacrifice ourselves or someone else in order to maintain a relationship is there a third way? A way forward that moves us towards reconciliation rather than violence?

May you find the third way,
The way that is grounded in love,
That requires humility and yet the
Courage to speak the truth,
Do not lose yourself, and do not sacrifice another,
Hold your truths together and be open to transformation.