About the Contributor
Adjunct Professor of Bible,
Southern Nazarene University, Independent Wesleyan Biblical Scholar
What image comes to mind?
For many it would be the Colt .45, a single action revolver. Invented in 1873, then remodeled in the mid 20th century.
Maybe it's the B-36 bomber. This post-WWII plane was designated by the US Air Force as the “Peacemaker.”
If you do a quick google search for “Peacemaker” you’ll find dozens of images of firearms. Seriously.
This is what Empires tend to do. Empires are want to legitimize violence and death; even claiming it as a means of peace. We see this very clearly in the Roman Empire. Death was foundational for the Pax Romana, Roman Peace. Those who threatened Empire, those who disturbed the peace, would be arrested and/or killed. (re: John, Jesus, Barabbas, et. al.)
Now, let’s be clear, it’s not that Empires desire to kill people. It’s just kind of what happens in order to maintain order and to keep promises.
Look at Herod Antipas! Herod, son of “the Great,” was not really a king at all. He was a tetrarch; he ruled 1/4th of his father’s territory. He didn’t have the authority to give Herodias (or Herodias’s daughter, depending on translation) half of the kingdom. This puffed chest pervert offers that which he does not possess.
And when she asks for the head of John, Herod is stuck… He doesn’t want to kill John. Despite how John speaks truth to power, Herod enjoys listening to him. But now he’s made this promise. To break this promise would reveal weakness and undermine his authority. Therefore, to avoid the breakdown of the system and to keep the peace, he must behead John.
Herod serves as an archetype for Empire. Perhaps this is Mark’s intent. As much as Empires desire to maintain or promote “peace,” the means by which they do so are unbelievably violent. This is what makes resurrection so subversive and such a threat to Empire.
Death is Empire’s ultimate tool os suppression, possession, and oppression. If death can’t even be controlled by the Empire what authority do they really have? If dead people can come back to life what power does the Empire truly hold?
This is the reason our pericope is so compelling. As much as it’s about John, it is much more so about Jesus! The story of John is almost parenthetical or a footnote. Mark picks up the story of John because Herod fears Jesus is John resurrected. As the alleged resurrected Baptizer, Jesus immediately becomes a threat the the Empire.
Last week we learned that Jesus is a threat to the religious system. This week we begin to see that Jesus is a threat to the Empire as well. If John was rejected so will Christ be; after all, Jesus picks up where John left off.
If the mere idea of a resurrected John can strike fear into the Empire, what will the actual thing do?
This Sunday the preacher has the hard task of preaching a prophetic word. This Sunday the preacher is reminded that the Christian witness speaks truth to power. This might lead to some form of our own death (though, probably not literally in America). Speaking truth to power may prove costly.
But this Sunday the preacher is also tasked with reminding her people that even when principalities and powers do their worst, Christ is still King. As a foreshadowing of Christ’s resurrection, John’s perceived resurrection shakes the foundations of Empire.
The church, then, as the agent of Christ in this world wages peace not as the Empire does. The Church who bears witness to Christ, as did John, wages peace not by taking life but by giving up life in the hope of the resurrection.