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The Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist

As we remember today when John was martyred, we read a devotion from Concordia Commentary: Mark 1:1–8:26.

Scripture Readings

Revelation 6:9–11
Psalm 71:1–8
Romans 6:1–5
Mark 6:14–29

Read the propers for today on lutherancalendar.org.

Introduction

John the Baptist spread the Good News of the reign and rule of God, even until his death. Along with John, the martyrs, the disciples before us, and those who will come after us, we take heart in knowing that we will spend eternity with Christ because of His sacrifice on the cross.

Devotional Reading

6:21   John the Baptizer was a threat to Herod Antipas and his family aside from his condemnation of adultery. It was a matter of honor, and John’s honor was, apparently, growing. Since honor was seen as a limited good in the Middle Eastern context, Herodias may also have been concerned about her husband’s honor status. Josephus recounts her nagging him to go to Rome to receive the title “king” (βασιλεύς) vis-à-vis Agrippa, who had received the tetrarchy of his half brother Philipp, with honor being precisely the point at issue.

6:22   As a rule, females were not allowed into gatherings such as this (the sexes were separated), except for courtesans, i.e., ἑταῖραι, “companions,” who were not honorable women. That honorable women were not present can be seen in the girl having to go out (6:24) to see Herodias, who would not have been present at such an event. Allowing a family member to perform an erotic dance in such a setting would have been seen by most people as shameful, though given the actions of the family of Herod generally, this should not be surprising.

6:25   In the first textual note on this verse, it is observed that words denoting haste now enter the story, as the scene turns macabre with the suggestion of the mother concerning the head of the Baptizer in 6:24. It is best to see the girl as being as nasty as her mother, not only with the use of the middle voice verb forms of αἰτέωαἰτήσωµαι, “(what) shall I request (for myself)” (6:24) and ᾐτήσατο, “she gave a request (for herself)” (6:25)—but also with the extreme haste she now exhibits, and her own addition of the gruesome phrase “on a platter.” Indeed, with the “platter” addition (absent from her mother’s words in 6:24), she may be mocking her father/stepfather who has had her dance at a dinner party (6:21), saying, in effect, “Let’s make this a really wicked dinner party!” This reading receives support/confirmation by “king” Antipas’ non-involvement in transmitting the head to the girl (6:28). Given the incident in 2 Ki 10:6–7, in which the presentation of opponents’ heads is seen as a loyalty test, the present request may be precisely such a test.

6:26   This verse shows Herod Antipas at his worst, namely, weak, corrupt, and shallow. He is worried about his honor more than anything else. Indeed, if he broke his oath, never again would he be trusted.

6:29   The parallel between the burial of John the Baptizer and Jesus is striking in terms of vocabulary. A strong connection between John and Jesus is drawn thereby. As there is an ironic parallel between “King” Herod Antipas and “King” Jesus in this pericope, so this pericope supports a strong parallel between Jesus and John. Not only has there already been a suggestion that Jesus, the bridegroom, will meet an unhappy end (2:19–20), but the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ end and John the Baptizer’s end are also surprisingly similar. These parallels strengthen the intercalation of which the death of John the Baptizer is the centerpiece, including its message that martyrdom stalks those involved in proclaiming and spreading the reign and rule of God, including Jesus and his followers.

Devotional reading is from Concordia Commentary: Mark 1:1–8:26, pages 409–12 © 2013 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Prayer

Dear Lord, You promise to separate Your beloved children from the violence and deceit of the wicked—not because You take pleasure in the death of sinners but because You treasure the life of the righteous. Grant us the comfort of Your grace and the confidence to proclaim Your life-saving Gospel to all people; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Prayer is from The Lord Will Answer, page 291 © 2004 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

 

Written by

Anna Johnson

Deaconess Anna Johnson is a marketing manager at Concordia Publishing House. After graduating from the deaconess program at Concordia University Chicago, she continued her studies at the University of Colorado—Denver in education and human development. She has worked as a church youth director and served a variety of other nonprofit organizations, such as the Lutheran Mission Society of Maryland. Anna loves playing video games and drinking a hot cup of tea almost as much as she loves her cat and her husband.

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