Trinity of Banquets
by Gary Simpson

Year B Revised Common Lectionary
Sixth after Pentecost or Proper 10 (15)

Mark 6: 14 – 29 (CEV) Jesus became so well-known that Herod the ruler heard about him. Some people thought he was John the Baptist, who had come back to life with the power to work miracles. 15Others thought he was Elijah or some other prophet who had lived long ago. 16But when Herod heard about Jesus, he said, "This must be John! I had his head cut off, and now he has come back to life." 17 & 18Herod had earlier married Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. But John had told him, "It isn't right for you to take your brother's wife!" So, in order to please Herodias, Herod arrested John and put him in prison. 19Herodias had a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she could not do it 20because Herod was afraid of John and protected him. He knew that John was a good and holy man. Even though Herod was confused by what John said, he was glad to listen to him. And he often did.

21Finally, Herodias got her chance when Herod gave a great birthday celebration for himself and invited his officials, his army officers, and the leaders of Galilee. 22The daughter of Herodias came in and danced for Herod and his guests. She pleased them so much that Herod said, "Ask for anything, and it's yours! 23I swear that I will give you as much as half of my kingdom, if you want it." 24The girl left and asked her mother, "What do you think I should ask for?" Her mother answered, "The head of John the Baptist!"

25The girl hurried back and told Herod, "Right now on a platter I want the head of John the Baptist!" 26The king was very sorry for what he had said. But he did not want to break the promise he had made in front of his guests. 27At once he ordered a guard to cut off John's head there in prison. 28The guard put the head on a platter and took it to the girl. Then she gave it to her mother. 29When John's followers learned that he had been killed, they took his body and put it in a tomb.
There are weeks when the texts in the liturgical cycle are wonderful. I have to admit this would not have been my choice of texts. God must enjoy handing out difficult sets of texts to make us wrestle with. I think I've had to speak on the story of Sodom several times in very conservative, straight congregations. God must have a sense of wild humor. A warning must be given. God's sense of humor is not necessarily shared by God's servants. In fairness to the heavenly management, the Eternal does not necessarily share or approve of my sense of humor.

Mark is a gospel of action. In Mark's gospel, Jesus does not spend as much time preaching as He does in the other gospels. The Messiah does things.1 Jesus preaches through his actions in Mark. Speaking about a gospel of action seems very appropriate when talking to a progressive Christians. Progressive churches tend to be churches where the gospel is acted out more than preached out. And that is what the world needs. The world needs more sermons that are lived out and fewer that are just preached.

There are three big feasts, a trinity of feasts, in the gospel of Mark.2 This is one of them. This feast appears before the feeding of the 5,0003 and the feeding of the 4,0004 in Mark's gospel.

There is controversy over the stories of the feeding of the 5,000 and the feeding of the 4,000. Some people feel the two stories are really the same event. Other people feel they are two different events. I am more of a religious educator than a theologian, so I will leave that debate to the deeper minds of the church.

The feeding of the 5,000 is a story told about Jesus meeting the spiritual and physical needs of Jewish people. In the story of the feeding of the 4,000, Jesus is meeting the spiritual and physical needs of Gentiles.5 The common element in both stories is that a Divine feast brings life. That stands in stark contrast with Herod's feast, which was a feast of death. During Herod's feast, John the Baptist is put to death.

John the baptist was well known. He might have been a spiritual hero to some people – taking on the morality of the political establishment. John the baptist is still respected by two world religions, Christianity and Islam.6 Currently, there is a religion, Mandaeanism, that regards John the baptist as a major prophet and rejects Jesus as a prophet. One encyclopedia gives an estimate of between 50,000 and 70,000 adherents world wide.7

Herod was so superstitious he thought Jesus was John the baptist raised from the dead.8 Herod was not the only superstitious person around. Society, as a whole, was fairly superstitious. Evidently, some people thought John the baptist would rise from the dead and punish Herod.9 Other people thought Jesus was Elijah.10

Herod's wife's daughter danced. Some manuscripts refer to her as Herod's daughter.11 She danced to entertain the men. Jewish people were rather conservative and would not have allowed a woman to dance before the men.12 Commentator Warren Wiersbe notes that many Gentile mothers would not have allowed their daughters to dance for men.13 Royal feasts had provisions for pleasure,14 so I doubt the young lady was doing a modest ethnic dance.

The Greek gives an interesting picture of the story that we miss in English. Verse 26 The king was very sorry for what he had said. But he did not want to break the promise he had made in front of his guests. The word translated promise in Greek is plural.15 This means Herod may have made many promises or oaths that he would give his wife's daughter anything she wanted.

J. Vernon McGee says Herod gave the daughter “a blank check.”16 And boy did she cash it. To the max, she cashed it. In a society where credit cards are probably used more than personal cheques, I would say she maxed out Herod's American Express card!

One commentator describes the main characters in this story as follows:

  • a fearless prophet”
  • a vicious king”
  • a vindictive” person
  • a shameless” person17

Put that combination of people together and bad things can happen. John the baptist was beheaded and his head was brought to Herod's wife to prove the evil deed was done!

The story of John the baptists death comes between Jesus sending the disciples out to serve people and the time they returned, exhausted from their service.18 There are a number of points the author might have been trying to make when placing the story of John the baptists death in this location in the Gospel of Mark. He might have been preparing the readers for Jesus' death. We are left to speculate as to the exact reason.

The story is placed where bad news often happens to us – when we are very busy! Life sends you out to do a million things. In the midst of the tiring rush of events, you get the bad news:

  • loved one is sick
  • a filing for divorce
  • job loss
  • physical illness
  • car accident
  • death of a loved one

There are times when we are busy for the Lord. We feel we've been sent out to do a task, to make the world a better place to live, to share the Gospel. During that time, the bad news hits. For some people that bad news has included things such as:

  • outed to church
  • asked to leave a church
  • voted out of office
  • terminated by church
  • excommunicated
  • physical illness
  • mental illness
  • loss of loved one
  • miscarriage

And we ask the very same things the people who loved John asked. We ask where God is. All of the tragedy! Where is God?

I think Mark answers that question. Jesus gave the commission to the disciples. The bad news appears. The disciples return exhausted.19 One person is present through all of this – Jesus. According to traditional Christian thinking, Jesus, the Son of God, is present through all of the busy things, through the ministry, through the bad news, and through the exhaustion.

According to classical Trinitarian beliefs, God, the Son and the Holy Spirit are equal. That means God, in the flesh, was present during the bad news, during all of the hard work, and during the exhaustion. The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, is present today, in the rush of daily business, in your service for God, in the bad news, and when you are so exhausted you need a long vacation. As the Eternal has done for hundreds of years, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is present to comfort, to give hope, and to be with you as you heal.

1Merrill Unger says, Mark presents Jesus acting rather than speaking. Unger's Bible Handbook. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1967), 493.

2William Loader. First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages from the Lectionary Pentecost 6. Lectionary Resources. (Internet web site:

3Mark Chapter 6.

4Mark Chapter 8.

5Bruce Barton, et. al. eds. Life Application Study Bible. 2nd ed. (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Pub., 2004), 1635.

6Wikipedia. Online Encyclopedia. (URL

7Wikipedia. (URL

8J. Vernon McGee. Thru the Bible Radio with J. Vernon McGee. Vol. IV. (Pasadena, California: Thru The Bible Radio, 1983), 184.

9Christian Community Bible. (Quezon City, Philippines: Claretian Pub., 2000), NT, 88.

10D.A. Carson, et. al., eds. New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1997), 961.

11Good News Study Bible. (New York: American Bible Society), 1352.

12Warren W. Wiersbe. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Vol. 1. (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1989), 131.

13Wiersbe, 131.

14Wiersbe, 131.

15Wiersbe, 131.

16McGee, 186.

17Carson, et. al., 961.

18Christian Community Bible, 88, indicates they returned “exhausted” after the journey.

19Christian Community Bible, 88.