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As we move towards next year’s presidential election we’re talking a lot these days about leadership and authority. Today’s scripture contains a contrast in leadership: Jesus, John the Baptizer and King Herod Anitpas. Where one assumes authority to be present, looking for the outside political perspective, there is none. Where one sees persecution and seeming defeat is ironically and paradoxically a confirmation of true authority. In the midst of this comparison, a sort of clinical leadership case trial, is the underlying message that Jesus sends his disciples – and us by extension – into the world with his authority, passion and purpose.
Our narrative scripture selection begins with Jesus returning to his hometown, his home country, his own people. Yet they don’t seem to recognize him. Amazed at his authority, wisdom and power; they are suddenly scandalized when they realize (or is it just remember?) who he is – the son of Mary and the carpenter. His dad isn’t even named, which wasn’t kosher or normal. Were they scandalized by his parentage, or his family? Or were they scandalized that the carpenter’s son, who may be good at building, but preaching? Really? In any case, their disbelief and unbelief seem to impede and prevent Jesus for being all that he is there.
From that seemingly disastrous visit home, Jesus sends his followers and friends out to proclaim that people should repent: recognize that they’re headed in the wrong direction in life and course-correct or turn around. It’s perhaps less about being bad or “sinful”; and more about being lost and continuing on the wrong path. Jesus sends them out, instructing them to take nothing, to trust and assume that they will be taken care of, shown hospitality along the way. God will provide. And when God doesn’t seem to provide, when people are inhospitable, then don’t stress about it, shake it off – shake all of it off – and move on to the next place and other people. They’re maybe sent as sheep among wolves, but they’re sent out with authority, power, responsibility and self-awareness. It’s not the number two that is important, but rather that they’re sent out in community – not alone.
In contrast to the growing wisdom, authority and spiritual maturity of the disciples, Herod is just plain stupid. Entranced or tricked (or both) by his step-daughter, he offers her up to half his kingdom. Well maybe he’s not that stupid, he had to have realized at some level that he was merely a puppet king handily controlled by the Roman Empire. He’s so weak that he will do anything to save face, and not look weak in front of others. So he has John the Baptizer killed – the very man who prophetically warned him of his moral failure and lack of spiritual wisdom. Irony upon irony. It’s perhaps a exhortative warning to and for us. We have authority. We’re sent out. But how do we go?
Questions for Going Deeper:
HERE’S a text analysis sheet I made to study through the texts with historical, cultural and inter narrative notes if you find that helpful. I’ll use it in the class I’ll teach on Sunday morning.