Sixth Sunday after Trinity (proper 10, year B) Mark 6 14-29
“And Herod solemnly swore to Herodias, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom’…yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.” (Mark 6.23,26)
Recently, there has been much news about what is the right thing to do; what the Greek Government should do, what should the so called ‘Institutions’ or ‘Troika’ (IMF, ECB, EC) do. The attempts to draw attention to the problems Greek people are having have not been heard. In its best, the queues outside closed banks and empty shelves of the local pharmacy are a curiosity; a sign of the irresponsibility which has been practised, not only by the Greek Government but, the very nation herself who has lived “light-hearted” for years.
The Finns have experienced a bad recession and economical crisis themselves; in the early 1990’s the Government allowed companies to take loans in foreign currency without restrictions. This combined with the collapse of the Soviet Union resulted the Government making a decision which saved the banks but not without heavy austerity measures on ordinary people. For example, the cut on pensions made at that time has still not been returned in fully.
This experience has led many in Finland, among others, to raise their voices and to oppose any adjustment in Greece’s loan re-payments or forgiving Greece’s debts. This, they say, is the right thing to do; to keep one’s promises and commitments.
Today’s gospel reading is very harsh and has a very sad end. Above all, we can understand its irrationality and injustice. Not being distracted by the clearly evil personality of Herod, we can understand his relationship with John the Baptist. It is a relationship where Herod is not very pleased with John’s preaching (his behaviour which he saw as not respectful). Still Herod accepts John, even fears him, as he sees the power and the presence of God in him. He has John put in prison but allows him to live.
Then Herod makes a promise (or a contract) to Herodias: ‘Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.’ When Herodias asks for John’s head on a platter, Herod is in trouble. He, in order to show his strength and to guard his reputation, grants to Herodias what she asked. John’s head is brought on a platter. Herod kept his promise, and maintained his reputation. And perhaps most importantly, showed to those who were dependant on him and his favour that he has no mercy.
But is the demand that agreements must always be kept the right thing to do? Is ‘we have suffered and kept our promises’ a valid argument when asking others to go through hardships? Surely the teaching of today’s gospel is that of mercy instead of blindly demanding something which we can all describe as unjust. We all can agree that the right thing for Herod to do would have been to have mercy on John the Baptist and refuse Herodias her request. Keeping what he had agreed was wrong and Herod did that only for his own sake.
Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. (1 Corinthians 13.5b-6)
Surely we, as Christians, are called to seek for a fair society for all; not only our own benefit. Justice can never be exercised without love and mercy.