Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Year B)
Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
12 July 2021
[ video ]
This week we have another biblical curve ball served up the lectionary committee. Thanks, guys!
In both the first reading from 2 Samuel 6 and the Gospel we have rich and powerful men behaving badly. Like footballers. Like politicians. Like rich and powerful blokes.
The Gospel passage starts innocently enough: Antipas wants to meet Jesus.
Who didn’t; and who doesn’t?
But then Mark gets into the gossip. We all love gossip.
Matthew (to his credit) cleans it up a bit, while Luke simply omits that whole scene from his Gospel.
It seems to me that Herodias was not the only person dancing. There was also a weird kind of threesome involving Antipas, John and Jesus.
Let’s review the dance cards.
Herod Antipas if you don’t mind. Better still, just call me, Herod!
Antipas was one of three surviving sons of Herod the Great. In the competition over succession following the death of Herod I, Antipas got second prize. His brother Archelaus was given a half-share of their father’s kingdom, while Antipas and their half-brother Philip each received one quarter. Hence the title, Tetrarch (ruler of a fourth).
Antipas spent much of his 40+ years as a ruler trying to secure the Roman appointment as “King of the Jews,” but ended up in exile after his nephew—Herod Agrippa I—accused him of planning a rebellion and snatched the prized title for himself.
The territory assigned to Antipas was in two pieces: a southern region (Peraea) on the eastern banks of the Jordan River, plus Galilee in the north.
Antipas was obsessed with royal power and ended up losing everything. He is a tragic figure.
John was a Jewish prophet who was active in the southern area controlled by Antipas.
From the perspective of Antipas, John was a troublemaker and a potential rebel. John was stirring up opposition to Antipas on the basis of him divorcing his first wife, a Nabataean princess, and marrying Herodias, his sister-in-law.
Actually, Antipas had bigger problems than John since his former father-in-law was less than impressed and invaded Antipas’s territory. The Roman Legate in Syria did eventually intervene to rescue Antipas and compelled Aretas to withdraw, but he also seemed hostile towards Antipas and delayed intervening until after Antipas had suffered serious losses.
John’s public criticism was not helping Antipas get over the public humiliation.
Worse still, John was telling everyone who would listen that God was about to send the Messiah and establish a new kingdom that would reflect the covenant values of God.
Just as his father had wished to do before him with the visting Magi, Antipas detained the troublesome prophet and eventually had him executed. The murder is historical fact, but the events of Mark 6 seem to be legend.
Antipas would be amazed to think people are still talking about John and Jesus after 2,000 years, while hardly anyone has heard of him!
When John was arrested by Antipas that seems to have been the trigger for Jesus to begin his activity in the northern region of Antipas’ micro-kingdom (see Matthew 4:12-17):
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali … From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” [Matthew 4:12–13, 17]
Jesus was a protégé of John, and he steps into the gap caused by the arrest of John. From his own prison cell, John sent disciples to ask Jesus whether he was “the one who is to come”:
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” [Matthew 11:2–3]
Jesus based himself at Capernaum, which was about halfway between the new city Antipas had founded at Tiberias and the “safe zone” in the NE region of Palestine ruled by Philip the Tetrarch, Antipas’ step-brother and bitter rival for the throne.
Several of the disciples of Jesus came from Bethsaida inside the territory of Philip, and according to Matthew the parents of Jesus came from the southern region originally allocated to Archelaus. The circle of Jesus had no reason to support Antipas, and all the more so after he arrests and then murders John.
Antipas hears rumors about a John 2.0, a guy called “Jesus” (Joshua in Hebrew). Antipas wonders whether John has been raised from the dead. He wants to meet Jesus.
Jesus was also talking about imperial power, and speaks incessantly of the reign/empire of God (basileia tou theou) which was not only coming very soon but was already here!
Indeed, Jesus tells people to act as if the reign of God is already here.
That means, of course, acting as if Herod Antipas is no longer the Tetrarch and will never become king.
Antipas meets Jesus
In the Gospel of Luke, there is one scene where Antipas finally gets to meet Jesus. Like Jesus, Antipas is in Jerusalem for Passover when Jesus is arrested by the Temple authorities and handed over to the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate. When Pilate hears that Jesus is from Galilee he passes the problem of what to do with Jesus across to Antipas:
When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies. [Luke 23:6–12]
This episode, of course, is the scene in Jesus Christ Superstar when Herod invites Jesus to perform a miracle, or maybe just walk across his swimming pool!
Jesus, I am overjoyed
You’ve been getting quite a name
All around the place.
Raising from the dead.
And now I understand
You’re God …
At least that’s what You’ve said.
So You are the Christ
You’re the great Jesus Christ.
Prove to me that you’re divine
Change my water into wine.
That’s all you need do
And I’ll know it’s all true.
C’mon King of the Jews.
Jesus, you just won’t believe
The hit you’ve made around here.
You are all we talk about
The wonder of the year!
Oh, what a pity
If it’s all a lie …
Still I’m sure that you can rock
The cynics if you try.
So if you are the Christ
You’re the great Jesus Christ
Prove to me that
You’re no fool
Walk across my swimming pool.
If You do that for me
Then I’ll let you go free.
C’mon, King of the Jews!
I only ask things I’d ask any superstar.
What is it that you have got
That puts You where You are?
I am waiting, yes, I’m a captive fan
I’m dying to be shown
That You are not just any man.
So if you are the Christ
Yes, the great Jesus Christ
Feed my household with this bread
You can do it on your head.
Or has something gone wrong?
Why do You take so long?
Come on, King of the Jews!
Hey, aren’t you scared of me, Christ?
Mr. Wonderful Christ …
You’re a joke, You’re not the Lord!
You are nothing but a fraud!
Take Him away
He’s got nothing to say
Get out, You King of the … get out
Get out, You King of the Jews
Get out, You King of the Jews
Get out of my life!
Antipas wanted to meet Jesus.
As Luke tells the story there is no meeting of minds. Their ideas of power are light years apart. Antipas wants to control others and enjoy power for himself.
Jesus sees power as loving service, tender care, liberating the prisoners, healing the sick. When he replied to the messengers from John, Jesus said:
Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” [Matthew 11:4–6]
So Antipas got to meet Jesus.
Sadly, Antipas had eyes but could not see, and ears but could not hear.
Antipas and Pilate were reconciled after years of rivalry. They saw the world the same way.
As we meet Jesus at the Table this morning, he invites us to see the world differently and live as if the rich and powerful were not in charge. Dare we do that?