Stacks Image 5401
Image, is the promotional image used by the Manitoba Opera for their presentation of the Opera Salome
The dinner party

Mark 6:14-29

July 12, 2015

Year B

(Exegesis by Barbara Nell)

Much of the Bible is about stories involving hospitality. Perhaps it is from our Christian history that we have become who we are - a hospitable people. If you belong to The United Church of Canada you likely understand hospitality. It’s one of those unspoken rules that we all know. We hardly ever mention it because we don’t have to. We live out our hospitality all of the time. We have the ability to pull together a feast. We can feed the people. We hardly ever just talk to people but as we talk we share food, and often we share a beverage of some sort. In the New Testament they appeared to share plenty of wine.

Most of us like to sit around the table and share in good conversation, good food and good wine. That is what was happening at Herod and Herodias’ party. This event occurred about the first Century AD in a castle located in the area called “The Galilee.” This party would look slightly different than what we are accustomed to. Herod and Herodias would have had a horseshoe shaped table and the men would have reclined on comfy lounging chairs around the main U shaped table, and they would have eaten lovely things and drank lovely wine, moderately, while trading amusing stories, quips and bantering amongst each other. I am not sure just what bantering is, but I am sure they bantered.

The women guests, and their hostess would have sat on chairs and I am not sure where the chairs were placed, within the horseshoe perhaps in a line or outside the horseshoe in a line. But in any case, they would have sat on fancy, but hard backed chairs, and would not have eaten or drunk wine, but I suspect they may have bantered. Their job was just to sit, all gussied up, and smellinh good. They would eat and drink, later, when they got home, or when the guests left. Maybe they moved to the U shaped table.

Salome, Herodias daughter from her marriage to Phillip is at the party. Salome is quite likely about 12 or 13years old. She is an only child. Remember, Salome is a step-daughter to Herod, Antipas. Herod has raised her since she was one year old. Herodias is divorced from Philip, a king, and he is Herod’s brother. Salome plays a key role in the story. She is the catalyst, the one who makes room for the murder. Salome’s story starts with a performance of some sort, perhaps a dance.

The dance could have been an entertainment interlude taking place between the courses or the closing event. In those days theatre was common. Salome may have been the one non-Bedouin (a guest) in a troop of Bedouin entertainers who did folk dances that non-Bedouins enjoyed seeing. They would have been professional entertainers on the payroll of Salome’s stepfather. Heroidas would have planned this entertainment and Salome may well have practiced with the group beforehand. It was quite likely a dance with a lot of head twirling and head tossing, by females in blue robes with cowls and there was flute accompaniment.

The other possibility is that the dancers were all masked and had performed an acrobatic sort of performance. The biblical interpretation I used leans towards this sort of performance for the time and the place. When the dance was over the audience clapped, and Herod complimented the performers, and then he singled one out. Because it was Salome that was singled out, I believe she was one of the masked acrobats.

Herod apparently didn’t recognise this child he had just raised since infancy as the excellent acrobat in the play. If he had recognised her he would not have offered her the gift/reward. He just would have said something like, good job sweetie, go get changed, you will catch cold. Therefore, because he didn’t recognise her, he made this huge gesture, offering her anything she desired as a gift from him for her fine performance.
We can assume that Salome then said, just a minute while I check this out with Mom.

And she went to where the women were lined up on their straight-backed chairs and asked her mother what gift they might desire. I suspect they conferred quietly while Herod and the guests watched. We can imagine that a twelve year old might have said something like “Euwww,” when she heard what her mother wanted. Dutifully Salome listened closely to what her mother told her and I would think she probably repeated it back to her, so that she got it right and straight. Then, she, the acrobat-Salome, came back to Herod with the gift idea: T
he head of the long time prisoner, John (who later became known John the Baptist, but is now merely John the prisoner) on a platter.

It’s quite likely that Herod now recognises Salome; however, it doesn’t really matter. He is startled and embarrassed, and in a public quandary. I think he likely said something like, “are you kidding!” while looking in Herodias’ direction and she glanced over towards him and shrugged her shoulders.

Of course Herod didn’t have to follow through. Everyone at the banquet knew there had been a big mad between Herodias and Herod regarding John for a long, long time. She had wanted him killed outright for talking often and badly about her, and her marriage to Herod. And he talked to everyone and anyone who would listen to him.

There are a couple of things going on here:
One is that John was talking about the inappropriateness of Herodias’ marriage to Herod. In those days Herodias shouldn’t have married Herod until Philip was dead. Remember, Herod and Philip were brothers. Philip was not dead, and so John went about talking about the immorality of “wife swapping” and the like. You know how people talk. However, when Herodias tried to kill John, Herod had John put in prison for his own protection.

Secondly, John put a religious twist on his talk. John attributed all the stuff that had gone wrong in the Galilee since they married, and stuff had gone wrong, because apparently Herod wasn’t a great leader. John said that the monotheistic god was angry with her, and would stay angry with her and get angrier so that the anger would spill over into all of Galilee, and this would be a threat over Herodias’ head until she and Herod split, or I guess, until Philip died.

People listened to that kind of stuff at that time, and in that place, and they got real scared. A monotheistic god’s anger was a terrible thing. Famine, drought, disease, flood, invasion were just a few of the disasters that could happen if Herodias didn’t change her ways. Herodias is in a vulnerable position. People are talking about her. Herodias takes the blame for this marriage, and its consequences, not Herod. Herod is seen as the good guy.

What might we glean from this story?

It’s about hospitality and there is no doubt these people had hospitable skills. They knew how to throw a party. I suspect they were good enough parents. I want to believe that Herodias wanted what was good for her daughter and her stepfather did too. But it’s also a story about leadership. It could have been a different story if Herod would have had the courage to say, oh, I made a mistake, or I didn’t mean you could demand someone’s head. He had plenty of options he simply didn’t know how to change his mind, or he couldn’t say I didn’t mean it that way or…he wasn’t savvy enough to do what needed to be done.

Salome is the innocent one in the story, she was the messenger and maybe she was set up. There is commentary that suggests Herodias knew what she was doing when she asked Salome to be part of the dance troop. If that happened then we have an element of deception in this tale. However that unfolded Herodias needed a good therapist.

She needed something like EAP. (Employees Assistance Program) I suppose two thousand or so years ago those weren’t possibilities. Even so, she might have found ways to deal with her anger towards John and it was old anger. John had been in jail for years. Herodias had issues. Undealt with issues, we all do, I suppose. But I believe that is the point of this story. We have EAP, we have professionals, we can pull together seminars and workshops that will assist us in learning how to be good leaders, or they will assist us in growing up emotionally so that we don’t simmer with anger forever and ever. Or we don’t live out our lives making bad decisions.

I am reminded of this story: This is a story about my daughter Lisa, and her two daughters Kelsie and Katie, (my granddaughters). I took on the role at Kelsie and Katie’s request to be an advocate for what they wanted and their mother Lisa wouldn’t say yes to. One day, Katie (13) said, Granny I need you to advocate for me. I want to date and Mom won’t let me. Really, all we want to do is go to the movies and hold hands. Sure, I said, I can do that. Thinking to myself, “you don’t have a hope kid,” I gave it my best shot and towards the end of our conversation Katie said with a hopeful look on her face, “Really, Mom, it’s just hanging out.” and Lisa said to her, “Katie you aren’t emotionally mature enough to date,” and Katie said,”But we are never emotionally mature enough.” I thought ahaa, she is probably right. Just when is it that we are emotionally mature enough to date? Maybe we have to hold hands at the movie as a first step to this maturity that gives all kinds of rights.

We all started somewhere, right?

This story of Mark’s asks hard questions about how we function in our world. This story from Mark’s gospel never mentions Jesus. He is absent from the story. Mark’s gospel is the only one that gives the disciples what-for. It’s clear that Mark feels the twelve disciples could have done with some leadership training and Mark is the only one that praises the women for their work at a level different from Matthew and John.

When we think about Mark’s writing, about leadership, and Jesus’ work and how he did his work - then I believe that we are called to consider serious leadership, and we are called to be responsible/accountable leaders. That means making sure we have ways to grow into the roles we take on in the church, in our work, and in our everyday lives. We want to find ways to be accountable to one another.
We want to be the best we can be with what we have at the time. Having said that, I believe that Herodias and Herod did what they knew how to do.

If they could have acted differently, they probably would have. Katie is right, were not emotionally mature and might not ever be. It’s a learning curve. It’s a process. How do we measure emotional maturity? How do we measure our leadership skills?

These days, in the twenty-first century we have plenty of opportunities to be great leaders, and to be emotionally healthy – we all have opportunity, or can find opportunity to deal with our anger, we can all access whatever we need, to assist us to find ways to be in emotional healthy relationships in all areas of our lives.

I leave you with this story: Where do you see yourself in the story?

How do you feel about your emotional maturity?

If you were going to retell this story what is its most important feature?

What is life changing?
Sharon Ferguson-Hood