We have taken A dark, dark turn. Things have been moving along, and the pressure has been building, but this story here in Mark 6:14ff serves as a sober reminder of where this rapidly paced narrative is heading. If you recall, John the Baptist was arrested early in the story (Mark 1:14). Since then, if you’re like me, you’ve forgotten about him entirely. Remember, he was Jesus’ cousin, he baptized Jesus, and he had quite a following of disciples himself. In this sense he was more than an amicable contemporary of Jesus. In a very real way he was a partner, both doing the work alongside Jesus and paving the way for Jesus.
Mark takes time to outline the death of John the Baptist here, and there are two things about that which are important. One, whenever Mark takes time to tell a story, we need to pay attention, because he is otherwise rushing through everything. His gospel is a fast-track to the cross, so when he slows down, it matters. Two, this the first time in Mark’s gospel that a story is told that doesn’t center around the work and life of Christ. Jesus almost disappears for a moment. If Mark is in such a hurry to get to the cross, why does he spend this much time on a story about a whole other character?
There could be many answers to that question, but I think this is definitely in the mix: Mark is reminding us that this is not merely about religion. This story is political. People often say that politics and religion shouldn’t mix, and that we shouldn’t talk about politics. I understand that. But the problem is this stuff is necessarily political. This kind of work has consequences in all corners of our worlds, and this story reminds us that the political realm is one of them.
If John is seen as a threat to the political powers that be to the point of having his head on a platter as birthday present, just what might be in store for Jesus? It is as if Mark is saying to us and to Jesus’ disciples, “Look out. This is where all this is trending.” Turning kingdoms inside out and upside down is perhaps some of the best work that can be done in this world, but it comes at a cost- a very high cost, and if you look through this world’s history, you will find that there are very few exceptions. We just came off of celebrating Are we sure we want to be disciples of Jesus? Are we sure we want to do what the master does?