July 11, 2021
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
If you’ve visited any art museum, you’ve no doubt seen a rendering of today’s gospel text. From Caravaggio to Albrecht to Luther’s contemporary Cranach, this grisly scene has captured the imagination. The dance. The agonized and arrogant Herod; the vengeful, strategic Herodias; the beheading, and then, of course, the head on a platter often held up in the paintings at the kind of angle that suggests the platter is being offering to the viewer, “Here, you asked for this?”
Last week, I saw my 9-year-old nephew for the first time since Christmas 2019. In fact, the whole family got together in Cincinnati. The first gathering since COVID. The first plane ride. We fit a lot into the weekend with Leo: golfing at Top Golf, balloon tosses that turned into a free-for-all, fireworks, boardgames, and one grand visit to the arcade. I did my own dance as I tried to step on the colored lights in time to the music. No one offered me their whole kingdom for my dancing. The main point of all of it, as you probably know, is to win tickets.
When we all done, we headed toward the shop to redeem our tickets. You know the kind of store: filled with stuffed animals, trinkets, candy, even gimmicky electronics—all of which, no doubt, cost a fraction of what we had already spent in game tokens.
Leo leaned against me and asked, “What should I get?”
It’s a question that children have been asking the adults, probably from the beginning of time. What should I want? What should I value? What should I prize?
One commentary on today’s text from Mark says that the Greek word for girl—Herodias’ daughter—indicates a child, not an adolescent, but a young, little girl. Which, of course, makes Herod’s fascination with her even more creepy, more dangerous. He offers her enough tickets to buy a kingdom.
She goes to her mother and asks, “What should I get?”
Her mother gives her a world: revenge; a seething anger that has been nursed and tended since being called out by John; a generation of bitterness so easy to pass along; an inability to be self-reflective; a willingness to murder those who expose the truth and to use even her own children in the service of her vendetta.
The little girl gets Herod’s world: a ruler who intuitively knows what’s good and right, is even interested in it, eager to listen, “perplexed” the text says, yet unwilling to give up any shred of his position or privilege to do what is right. Worried that he’ll look weak if he doesn’t follow through on his bombast. The kind of ruler who invents his own reality, unmoored from any moral compass. Herod’s world always capitulates to the needs of power, wealth, and position.
When this world is offered to our children, we will, indeed, get a glimpse of our future offered up to us on a platter.
Have you been following the story of Native schools in Canada? Graves of hundreds of native children are being discovered on the grounds of schools that were designed “assimilate Native youth” into “civilized” culture. They died in squalid health conditions, underfed, abused, and then forgotten. Of course, this was true in the United States, too. The federal government set up schools to strip Native children of their culture, forcing them to cut their hair, punishing them if they spoke their Native language, and learning in class that their religious practices were evil and anti-Christian. Children, who look to adults for to know what to value, were systematically broken and made to believe that their very being was wrong. In the Herodian world of those Native schools, even the dancing they knew was not allowed. The wound of that experience is still bleeding in Native communities. One person who grew up in one of those schools said, “”They were putting us down as people, so we learned to not like who we were.” I suspect that’s an understatement.
Hearing this news, grappling with these dark undersides of human history is, perhaps, what this gospel text offers to us this morning: a glimpse into the world that we inhabit, and that we have all-too-often suggest to our children. The times when we’ve not done what we knew was right but chose to save face or slam a door to our own vulnerability and failure. The times when we’ve strategically looked for ways to get even. The times when we have been unwilling to change our behavior for the sake of our children’s future. Revenge, greed, manipulation, abuse, lies hidden among the comfort of wealth, luxury, and the need to have everything look good to the people at our parties.
This is the only gospel reading we have in the lectionary in which Jesus never appears. It’s, as if, the gospel is absent, except as an anti-gospel, the opposite of the world that Jesus has been offering to disciples and the children he encounters. When he experiences failure or disappointment around him, he meets it with forgiveness and a grace that opens a new door. When faced with revenge and death, he invites and creates a community of broken, yet loved, people. When faced with disease, he heals. When faced with violence and betrayal, he instructs his followers to put down their swords.
The text even gives us a clue as to which vision, which world on a platter, will prove to be stronger. The story ends with John’s body laid in a tomb. Recognize those words? The same ending for the crucifixion. The body of Jesus laid in a tomb. All of the disciples, fearful and wondering, “Now what are we going to get?”
And God says, “Let me show you the prize I have in store for you.” An empty tomb. A Spirit poured out a group of people that offers up love on platter, “This is my body, given for you.” A Spirit that invites us to another kind of party, with Jesus at the head table, delighting in our awkward, childish dancing, pleased that we have come, determined to come find us when we refuse the invitation.
A Christ at the head of the table, ready for us to ask, “What should I get?” And then give to us all that our world truly needs.
 “Canada: 751 unmarked graves found at residential school,” BBC News,