With the mission of the Twelve underway Mark has asked his reader to look beyond the life of Jesus to the continuation of God’s offer of His kingdom to those who repent. As their mission proceeds, they keep central the call to repentance so as to enjoy the Kingdom, and support their call with astounding acts similar to those which support the credibility of Jesus’ preaching. Added is the fact that they go out in twos, which is more than a sign of companionship; where two testify to the same thing, the testimony is more convincing and more credible. Every step forward in Mark’s Gospel is accompanied by some kind of reaction to Jesus; the eventual mortal rejection of Jesus is well prepared for. At this point Mark inserts the curiosity of Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great and ruler, till 39 AD, of Galilee. Under heading of this ruler’s puzzlement we gather such suggestions that Jesus is some kind of reincarnation of John the Baptist, only a John the Baptist now with mighty powers, that Jesus is Elijah (expected by tradition later than Elijah to return from heaven to prepare Israel to meet its Covenant Partner – to come again Elijah never died), that Jesus is, simply, a prophet in the line of Jewish prophets of old. Herod’s own conclusion was that John has been raised from the dead – fanciful, but an introduction to Herod’s killing John, and, strangely, a recognition that resurrection from the dead might issue in the powers and teaching witnessed by so many in Jesus. But the ’resurrection of John from the dead’ serves also as a confession of Herod that he was wrong to kill John; God, in Herod’s opinion here, trumps the evil of Herod with His own raising of John to life. How did Herod come to such a state as to behead John? What stirred up Herodias, the wife of Herod Antipas, to ask for the head of John the Baptist was John’s public condemnation of Herod’s marriage to Herodias. Herodias had left her husband of some years and took her daughter Salome (now about 12 years old) with her to go to Herod; Herod on his part divorced his wife, a princess from just east of Galilee, in order to marry Herodias (whom he had met in Rome). Though neither Herod nor Herodias was Jewish, the very public flaunting of Jewish Law against divorces such as these by very public figures moved John to condemn their acts. In defense of Jewish Law, then, John died. It is this noble Jewish figure whom Christianity can call upon as trustworthy witness to Jesus, and that is why he is present here in Mark’s Gospel. The Herod-John stories serve as interlude, as interpretation of Jesus and as bolstering the witness value of John toward Jesus and devotion to God to the death. The Twelve now return, and we hear of their report about ’all they had done and taught’. Already they are teachers of the teachings of Jesus, a role defined for the future church. Again we hear of the continually mushrooming popularity of Jesus which as in previous chapters has as the motivation of crowds both wonder-working and wise teaching. It is Jesus’ wisdom which will continue in his church long after his death, and his wisdom which will ultimately lead to his death. It is said that, some time after the death of Jesus, some of John’s disciples vocally opposed belief in Jesus; if this be true, the Gospels show only harmony between Jesus and John. John may have been puzzled by Jesus, but not an opponent. John Kilgallen, S.J.
Mark 6, 14-33 no 18 Oct 10