Beheading of John the Baptist

Readings: Jeremiah 1:17-19; Mark 6:17-29 

You could hardly have two readings more calculated to contradict each other than these. The first is bracing with promise: you will be a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze; they will not overcome you. And it’s quite a ‘they’ arrayed against the prophet: kings, princes, priests, and people. And it’s a promise that God does not keep. In the end Jeremiah is doomed and defeated: the Lord neither delivers him nor the people.

John the Baptizer fares no better: his message arrays the powers of his day against him and … and his God does not deliver him either. On its own that is bad enough, but we have that promise made to Jeremiah in our ears, awakening the engrained conviction that things really should go better for those who speak God’s word and do God’s work?

Hopkins the poet says it like this: “Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must Disappointment all I endeavour end?
Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend, How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost Defeat, thwart me?”

Not a happy note to begin a retreat we might think… but that seems to be exactly what Jesus does. As Mark tells it, he hears the story we have heard and he retreats to a quiet place to wonder about it all. To wonder about lost friends. To wonder about his own ministry, his own words and work, his calling, his future. To look to his roots. To look to God. To let God look back. … and if that’s good enough for Jesus perhaps it might be make a difference for us too.