Ruth Enns spoke on the lectionary gospel reading (Mark 6:14-29) telling of the death of John the Baptist. Ruth has often dealt with Salome by Richard Strauss, an opera whose success made this the most popular biblical story on the classical musical stage. The gospel tells us that Herod Antipas (Jesus called him “that fox”) led a life which attempted to bridge the opposing lifestyles of Judaism and the Roman Empire. Herod’s marrying the former wife of his living half-brother was forbidden by Jewish law and repeatedly criticized by John the Baptist, possibly even in Herod’s presence before his courtiers. Although John’s preaching made Herod’s court very uneasy, Herod was nevertheless fearful that John was a man of God. The historian Josephus wrote that John’s death was political and designed to squelch a possible uprising, but the gospel writer concluded that it was prompted by Herodias and her revenge for John’s decrying her marrying for power, by John’s telling the court truths it did not want to hear. As Ruth surveys centuries of interpretations of this gripping story of human frailty and faith, she is fascinated by the layers of psychological interpretations of painters, playwrights and composers, but finds herself most drawn to John, that steadfast rock of faith, that ‘voice in the wilderness’ which finally dared to enter the city and echo through Herod’s palatial halls and the consciences of its inhabitants, challenging the little nation’s most powerful ruler to live an upright and moral life. This cost John his life, but even his death came to be seen as foretelling Christ’s death. John spoke out, regardless of the consequences. We are more careful. [JEK]
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