• AMOS 7:7-15
  • PSALM 85: 8-END
  • EPHESIANS 1:3-14
  • MARK 6:14-29

Amos’s plumb line is unexpectedly a symbol of destruction, and warns us of what is to come in the Gospel which we’ve just heard, one of the most horrible in the whole of the New Testament, barring none.  The soldiers who crucify Jesus are simply executing the sentence pronounced by the Governor, and Jesus knows what is coming to him, and what the amazing consequence will be in eternity for humankind and all Creation.

But King Herod  on the other hand is  giving a dinner party, showing off his own importance before his invited  distinguished male guests.  Who was this Herod, for  there are many, one way or another,  at this time?  The Gospel writer has got the Herod family, his wife and her daughter into a muddle, he’s got all of their identities and roles and marital status  into a  muddle.  No surprise to anyone who’s tried to understand  another family, where there’s divorce. multiple  marriages, one of them illegal, step children, step brothers, and half brothers and sisters,  in plenty too.

For Herod, his own importance and reputation are more important than the life of this prophet who really fascinates him.  He allows his wife, embittered by John Baptist’s disapproval, to have her way, and gets John’s head chopped off unceremoniously, simply to keep his wife happy and his guests entertained.

And what is this John’s importance in the story of salvation ?   He is the forerunner, like the racer whose role is to get the winner up to speed.  His fate is what discipleship may finally cost.  For neither John, nor Jesus, nor disciples in the future, can expect to be carried up to Heaven like Elijah.

When Herod hears about Jesus he supposes Jesus is John raised from the dead.   In this way John points forward to Jesus in death as in Iife, as does the way John’s disciples come to lay his body  in the tomb.

Just like Jesus’s disciples come to lay Him in the tomb, after the Crucifixion.

When we turn back to the amazing quote from the letter to the Ephesians, we see that we ourselves are  not chosen  for our own sakes, but for the sake of what God wants to accomplish  through us.

Like the Lord’s choosing of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob  to be bearers of his promised salvation of the world. The rescue of the whole cosmos, specially of humankind.

The forgiveness of sins is the real deliverance  from the real slave master. This is what the sacrificial blood  of Jesus does, it is the fulfilment of the Exodus story.   This is why worship for Christians will always involve telling the story of  God’s earlier actions on Israel’s behalf.

Antony Grant CR