14 And Herod the king heard,
for his name was becoming visible,
he was saying:
“John the Baptizer has been raised out of death
and on account of this the deeds of power are being worked in him. ”
15 But others were saying:
“Elijah it is.”
Others were saying:
Like, one of the prophets!”
16 But after Herod heard, he was saying:
“The one whom I beheaded,
(John, wasn’t it?),
that one has been raised.”
17 For the same Herod sent
and arrested John
and imprisoned him in a guardhouse
on account of Herodias the wife of Phillip,
because he married her.
18 For John kept saying to Herod:
“It is not allowed for you to have the wife of your brother. ”
19 But Herodias had it in for him
and wanted to kill him,
and she was not able.
20 For Herod feared John
because he knew him to be a righteous and holy man.
He protected him;
he listened to him many times;
he was very much at a loss.
He did listen to him gladly.
21 An opportune day came when Herod
for his birthday
made a feast for his courtiers
and the commanders of the cohorts
and the leading citizens of Galilee.
22 His daughter came in,
(the daughter of Herodias)
she danced and it was pleasing
and to the dinner guests.
The king said to the little girl:
“Ask me whatever you wish and I will give it to you.”
23 He swore to her:
“Whatever you ask me I will give to you,
up to half of my dominion.”
24 She went out;
she said to her mother:
“What shall I ask?”
“The head of John the Baptizer.”
25 After she went in
BANG with haste
to the king
she says to him:
I want you to give to me…,
upon a plate…,
the head of John the Baptizer.”
26 The king became very sad
on account of the oaths and the dinner guests
he did not want to put her off.
27 BANG the king sent a guard
he commanded him to bring the head to him.
After he went out he beheaded him in the guardhouse
28 and brought the head his upon a plate
and gave it to the little girl
and the little girl gave it to her mother.
29 And after his disciples heard
they came and picked up his corpse
and placed it in a grave.
(This translation is from my book, Provoking the Gospel of Mark: A Storyteller’s Commentary.)
A Question or Two:
- Who did Herod invite to his party?
- Why did they accept the invitation?
Some Longer Reflections:
There are two examples of creativity in this scene.
Creativity matters. It is a trait we share with God, in whose image we are created.
The first instance of creativity is rooted in how people are seeing Jesus.
They hear his teaching. They see people healed and restored. And they say, “Elijah!” They say, “A Prophet!”
That is not simply a perception. That is an interpretation, a creation.
We do it all the time. Seeing isn’t just seeing. Seeing always involves “seeing as.” Sometimes we call it “recognition,” which incorporates cognition into perception. And when we say that someone is “perceptive,” we do not just mean that the organs involved in sense perception are in working order. We sometimes use the word, “perceptive,” when we are talking about people who have “insight, ” which is another word that involves seeing and something much more.
In this case, the act of creative seeing has its roots in faith. For people to see Jesus and say, “Elijah!,” they have to know the stories about Elijah, they have to remember what he did and they have to remember that Elijah’s acts were seen as the acts of God in the world. But more than that, they have to expect God to act like that again.
Think about that.
People see and hear Jesus. They see Elijah because they remember Elijah. And in seeing and remembering Jesus and Elijah, they see God.
That is important, given that God is achingly invisible, a word that needs to be said more vigorously, somehow. “Invisible” seems too tame, too detached, too something. It is not that God can’t be seen (like air can’t be seen, but is still obviously there). The problem is that God NEEDS to be seen, and we cannot see Her. That is what makes this seen of creative and faithful insight so important. People need to see God, and they do see Her, because the stories they remember teach them how.
That is one of the things that worries me about the present moment. I find fewer people who remember the stories that would teach them to see God acting in the world. To be sure, many people DO remember those stories, but (in my experience) there are fewer people who know the stories well enough to look at Jesus and say, “Elijah!”
And I find more people who know stories about God know mostly sentimental and superstitious stories, which diminishes what they can mean when they say, “God!”
When the people in the story say, “Elijah! A prophet!,” they expect that this perception will require something of them, something that will transform them even as God transforms the world.
That is the real creativity in this scene. It makes people new. It remakes the world, raising it to life.
The second creative act in this scene comes a bit later, and has a rather different outcome.
Herod has a birthday. Herod has a party. Herod invites a crowd of people who, like him, are deeply woven into the play of power that is the Roman Empire: his courtiers, his commanders, and the “leading citizens of Galilee.” Many of these people might have been (somehow) Jewish. Herod was, though the rabbis refuse to recognize that murderer as a Jew. But if the people at the party were (somehow) Jewish, anyone looking in the window would have seen them as involved and implicated in the play of Roman power.
Herod had a party, and at the party Herod’s daughter danced. We do not know what kind of dance this was, only that it was danced by a little girl, and that it pleased the crowd.
Let this disturb you a bit. No matter what is going on, there is something dangerous going on.
Herod offers the little girl a reward for her dancing. The girl asks her mother what this reward should be. The answer is disgusting, but not surprising, given that this is Herod’s family: murder runs in this family.
But now comes the act of creativity.
When the little girl goes back to Herod, she does not simply repeat her mother’s words. That would have been shocking in itself.
When the little girl goes back, she says:
I want you to give to me…,
upon a plate…,
the head of John the Baptizer.
She does not simply repeat what she heard. She improvises.
My students and friends who play improvisatory jazz have told me that the way you learn to improvise is to play scales, to play through ordinary chord changes and melodic progressions. You play basic scales and changes and progressions until they work their way into your body, until you physically re-member them. Then, and only then, can you leap off what you have heard, leaping so that you can land in the arms of that which you have re-membered.
The little girl also knows stories, and she remembers them. This scares me to death.
It matters what stories we re-member.
It matters very much. It matters because those stories are what make us able to see God acting in the world. What stories are we re-membering these days?