A fellow pastor and friend of mine once gave some sage advice – “When you follow Jesus, the world will break your heart over and over again.” So true.
This coming Sunday we will hear about the beheading of John the Baptist. I challenge you to google beheading and see the reality of this. Look at an image. That’s the reality of this passage of Scripture. And it is the image of contrast of two feasts that are offered.
There is the banquet of Herod celebrating his birthday, and there is the feast that Jesus offers. Two kings throwing a banquet in celebration, but the two banquets are far different from each other.
Herod’s feast is actually pretty lame. It’s fake and based on lies. Sure, the rich and powerful are there – all the celebrities of the kingdom, those that lobby for things, VIP’s, etc. They are all there. They say wonderful things about Herod – how great he is. The food and entertainment are fabulous.
But it’s a lie, down to its core. The people there don’t care about Herod, they are just like Herod. They only care about themselves. Sure they say wonderful things about him, but the reality is that the moment Herod dies, these same people will just jump ship and say the same lies to whoever is next in line. Being close to the seat of power is what is important to them.
At Herod’s banquet, John, the prophet, is jailed because prophets tell the truth and say things that are uncomfortable and inconvenient to the privileged and comfortable of Herod’s court. Prophets are inconvenient and they cause us to look at the reality that is in our face, as opposed to pushing it aside out of convenience. Privilege and comfort have the luxury of pushing inconvenient and uncomfortable things aside so that they can continue living their lie. They can tell themselves that the inconvenience and uncomfortableness of others doesn’t affect them.
Herod’s banquet is about cold, hard law, and compliance. And even Herod is enslaved to that and suffers the consequences of his own law. The man in charge is no more in charge than anyone else. Zero tolerance law means everyone suffers harshly. The law leads to death.
Herod, and everyone else at his banquet, is imprisoned by the lie that power sets you free. Power entraps you and demands your life and tells you a lie. In reality, you are a slave to it – and it is a hard task master.
Herod’s banquet leads to death. Herod’s banquet is a fraud, just like Herod. Herod, the king, won’t even get his hands dirty and carry out his own orders. It might mess up his outfit. He might get blood on his hands. He might not be able to sleep well. He shows how weak he really is.
The other banquet is the one Jesus holds. It’s a feast. All are invited. The poor and homeless will be there. So will the outcast, the prostitute, and more. The rich, the powerful are also invited. So are the people in the middle. Jesus’ feast leads to transformed lives. Jesus is willing to get his hands dirty – showing us over and over again his willingness to be ritually unclean by touching the impure and healing them and bringing them into community. Jesus’ feast brings life. And all are welcome, not just the VIPs.
Every would be Herod does the same thing, says the same things, gets the same results. There is nothing special about Herod or any who would be Herod. These people are all the same, the only difference is the name.
This was true of the kings in the Old Testament. It was true of the kings in the New Testament. It was true of the kings since the time of Scripture. It is still true today. There is nothing special about Herod or anyone like him. Nothing. At all.
There is nothing special about people who use Herod’s language, who use the law the way that Herod did, who implement Herod-like policies.
There is nothing special about people who use anger and fear and violence to get their way.
There is nothing special or unique about people who spin things that are unethical, like Herod did, in order to comfort their wrecked conscious.
There is nothing special about any of these people. And that may be the biggest insult these people can possibly hear. That they are not special. They and their methods are run of the mill.
Herod sent out an invitation to his banquet. But he rejects God’s invitation, beheading God’s messenger instead.
Herod and those like him – both before and after – are not special. They reject an incredible gift from God. And God honors their request for God to be out of their lives. They live in their own version of hell and suffer the consequences that they impose on themselves. That’s not special.
What is special is Jesus and his way. A way far different from the way of the Herods of every age, including our own. A way that calls on us to die daily to ourselves so that we can rise in the fullness of who God calls us to be. A way that is risky and doesn’t come with all the answers and glitz and glamor. A way that is uncomfortable and inconvenient. A way that opens our eyes to see things we cannot unsee. A way that the world rejects and thinks is crazy. A way that causes us to go and do. A way that transforms lives, not just allows us to survive. A way of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and peace. It is the way of Jesus.
It is special because it is different. It is special because it is so often put aside. It is special because those that follow it know something unique – that life is so much more than power, or stuff, or strength, or being right, or money, or fear, or anger, or anything else. Life is a gift from God. Faith is a gift from God. And God invites us to use these gifts to participate in the unfolding of God’s Kingdom.