From the Rector

From the Pile on Fr. Kirk’s Desk…

Spider-Man and the Beheading of John the Baptist

Year B, Proper 10, 2015

In celebration of Comic-Con wrapping up today in San Diego, and because of the thought of having to wait until late November for Comic-Con to come to Reno, I have to start this morning by getting my “Geek” on.

One of the great super hero quotes of all time comes from the Marvel comics character Ben Parker, the uncle of Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man. To quickly set the scene, Peter, a high school student, has been bitten by a radioactive spider and has acquired certain spider characteristics, or spider powers.

There is of course a romantic interest, and Peter is trying to earn enough money to buy a car in order to impress the love of his life, Mary Jane Watson.  Peter sees an ad in the paper that will pay anyone $3,000  who can last three rounds in the ring with a large and heartless professional wrestler.

Uncle Ben gives Peter a ride to the library, from which Peter would then sneak off to the arena and win the grand prize. Before Peter gets out of the car, Uncle Ben gives Peter some sage coming-of-age advice, in response to Peter having beaten up a bully at school.  He tells Peter, “Just because you can beat someone up, it doesn’t give you the right to… Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.”

Well, Peter won the wrestling match and when he goes to collect his winnings, the promoter only gives him $100.00 because Peter did not last three rounds, he won the match in two rounds.  Peter protests for being cheated because he needs the $3,000 and is told by the promoter, “I missed the part where that’s my problem.”  As Peter is leaving the office, an armed robber comes in and steals all the money.  Peter lets the bad guy just run out.  The promoter says to Peter, “You could have taken that guy apart, and now he is getting away with my money,” in which Peter responds, “I missed the part where that’s my problem.”

Peter’s moment of irresponsibility, self-righteousness, and revenge leads to the next scene where Peter finds out that the armed robber he let go, had just shot and killed his Uncle Ben and stole his car.

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Today’s Gospel gives us an image that is more in line with the Marvel Comic Daredevil than it is with our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.  Today, we listen to a story about relationships and power that leads to the gruesome outcome of John the Baptist’s head on a platter.

Herod made tons of bad choices, but I sort of feel the need to lift him up and celebrate some of the choices he made that were actually good;… choices that stemmed from his relationship with John the Baptist.

There are things in the scriptures that lead scholars to believe that John and Herod’s relationship was not so much political, as it was personal.  It does not say that John had been preaching against Herod, it reads, “For John had been telling Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife."”  John had been telling Herod.  If John had been publicly preaching against Herod, Herod would have had no choice but to  publicly execute him.

This would have been about him retaining his imbalance of power.

Some think John had been privately advising Herod, which included John’s perspective about Herod’s relationship with Herodias.  This relationship with John was changing Herod’s worldview.  This change in Herod made Herodias hate John for fear of losing her own power.  Some think that Herod arrested John to keep him alive, to protect him from Herodias.  Herod feared (respected) John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, thus Herod protected him. When Herod heard John, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to John.”  You see John was building a relationship with Herod and beginning to shape Herod’s way of thinking.     

This threatened Herodias and she wanted John dead.  Once Herod publicly announced that Herodias’ daughter could have anything she wanted, Herodias knew she had found the way to John’s death.

Do you see why I sort of want to celebrate Herod?  Well, what I really want to celebrate is the relationship between Herod and John the Baptist.  John could have hated Herod, but instead he loved his enemy by reaching out to him and building a relationship which had the potential to change history as we know it.

What a loving example John is for reaching out to the king, and what a surprising example Herod is for actually listening to someone he disagreed with.  Herod respected John and wanted to protect him as a righteous and holy man.   This is how a society built and honor, shame, and power can be changed; this is what loving your enemy looks like; respect and actually listening.  It is unfortunate, not only for John but for the world, that the power structure of being the king could not prevent John’s death.  In relationships, John knew that with great power came great responsibility and he did what he could to change the unjust society he lived in.

Today’s Gospel begins, “King Herod heard of the demons cast out and the many who were anointed and cured, for Jesus' name had become known. Some were saying, "John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him." But others said, "It is Elijah." And others said, "It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." But when Herod heard of it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised."

When Herod heard of the miraculous powers of Jesus, what he saw was a reflection of John the Baptist.  What can we walk away with today, that will help us live as a reflection of our teacher, Jesus Christ?

We don’t have to be bitten by a radioactive spider to possess the power of a super hero.

As Christians, our powers were revealed to us through the outward and visible sign of the sacrament of Holy Baptism.  When we were sealed and marked as Christ’s own forever we could no longer deny that the power of God was in us.

What do we choose to do with this power?  How do we responsibly live through it?

As Christians, we need to find a way to shed light on our perspective of the truth in any given situation without being righteous and judgmental.  Oh, but it is so easy to be judgmental…and we are so good at it.  Being judgmental projects a perceived power over others and does not change the world; it only fans the flames of broken relationships.

For John the Baptist to build a relationship with Herod, he had to be able to take on Herod’s perspective.  John did not have to agree with Herod’s perspective, he just needed to be able to see the world from that perspective.  Taking on someone’s perspective builds empathy and allows actual conversation and relationships to form.

For me, the #1 element of living into our super power of baptism comes through relationships.  No one listens to each other in a world built on “US” verses “THEM”.  This is the reason the Nicene Creed begins with the word “WE”.  This is the reason we publicly worship together.  This is the reason we share a common meal together and the reason each of us equally belongs here. We are in this together as One Body.  We are in a relationship of belonging to God and we have the responsibility to live into that relationship as a reflection of Christ and we must be responsible with the power bestowed upon us.

Relationships are hard, but “With great power comes great responsibility”

I wonder if Jesus can be attributed to this quote?   He did tell us in Luke chapter 12,
“From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required;”
“From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required;”
Sounds like a super hero quote to me.

(If you have found this to be helpful, feel free to share it.)

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