29 January 2016

Mark 6:14-29

“King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known.” (v. 14)

Psalm: Psalm 23


Here in the middle of stories illustrating Jesus' growing public profile is the account of the bloody and seemingly senseless end of John the Baptist's life.

So why does Mark's Gospel tell us this story, and in such detail? Mark's Gospel is notorious for the pace at which it moves. It omits any mention of Jesus' birth or early life. Yet in this shortest Gospel there is this pause for an extended description of the events leading to John's murder, and the muddle of vengeance, manipulation and the caprice and weakness of a despot which accomplished it.

It's not unlikely that Mark's readers were scared and persecuted. Mark's Gospel is thought to have been written in a period of violence and hostility towards Christians in the middle of the 1st century.

There's always a danger in religious life of associating the presence and work of God in the world only with what is positive and peaceful and good. Mark's Gospel was written in the light of what has already been seen the cross and resurrection of Jesus - that even in apparent failure, weakness, defeat, even where God seems most absent, love's redeeming work is done.

Mark's Gospel issues a twofold invitation: to face squarely the reality of violence, tragedy and resistance to God in the world; and at the same time, to trust in the creative power of God that cannot be defeated, even when a violent world does its worst - a light that no darkness can finally extinguish.

To Ponder

  • How have you dealt with God's apparent absence in your own experience?
  • What helps you to trust that God is present and at work in the world's darkness and violence?

Bible notes author

The Revd Carole Irwin

Carole is a presbyter in the Methodist Church. She has served in circuits in Folkestone and Bradford, and is currently Director of Studies at Wesley House, Cambridge.