Today’s Reflection
Is there any good news in Mark 6:14-29? (maybe not)

Dr. C. Clifton Black of Princeton Seminary asks: "Who preaches on the death of John the Baptist?" As in, who *does* that?!

Then, Professor Black asks a prior question: *Why* does Mark tell this story: the longest of the Gospel’s anecdotes and its only flashback? Aside from the Golgotha plot (Mark 14:1-2 + 10-11) and discovery of the empty tomb (Mark 16:1-8), this is the only tale in which Jesus never appears. Its villains never reappear (cf. Luke 23:6-12). It’s a strange story about John in which the baptizer himself never appears.

Dr. Black continues: "Even stranger: beneath this story of John is the story of Jesus. The flashback is a flashforward. Mark tips us off in 6:14-16: the confusion over agency for Jesus’ mighty works (cf. the identical refrain in 8:27-29). Herod foreshadows Pilate in the same way that John presages Jesus (1:1-15; 9:9-13; 11:27-33). The two prefects are nominally in charge. Like Antipas, Pilate is amazed (6:20; 15:5) by circumstances surrounding an innocent prisoner (6:17, 20; 15:1, 14a), swept up in events that fast spin out of his control (6:21-25; 15:6-13), and unable to back down after being publicly outmaneuvered (6:26-27; 15:15).....

"Like John, Jesus is passive in his final hours (6:14-19; 15:1-39), faces with integrity his moment of truth (6:21: hemeras eukairou, “an opportunity came”; 12:2: to kairo, “the season came”), and is executed by hideous capital punishment (6:27-28; 15:24-27), dying to placate those he offends (6:19, 25; 15:10-14).

"Where’s the good news in Mark 6:14-29? There may be none...

"Everywhere greed and fear whisper: in Herod’s ear, among Galilee’s high and mighty, behind the curtain between mother and daughter, in a dungeon prison. When repentance is preached to this world’s princes, do not expect them to relinquish their power, however conflicted some may be."

Professor Black concludes: "Herod’s banquet is only the first of two in Mark 6. Jesus hosts the second, in the middle of nowhere for thousands of nobodies with nothing to offer save five loaves and two fish. At that feast greed and fear have no place. There all are fed to the full, with leftovers beyond comprehension (6:30-44)."

Notes

Professor Black's fuller reflections on this text can be found at workingpreacher.org (2015).