Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mark 6:21-29

21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias's daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John's [13] head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

What would you offer someone you loved?

What would you give to that special someone? Valentine's Day is just around the corner, you know.

I recently had a discussion with someone about being in love. I asked if this person had ever had a relationship that had an almost addictive quality; there is something almost chemical about one's response to this other person, we find ourselves incapable of dealing rationally with this other. It is beyond simple physical passion, our whole being becomes wrapped up in this other person. We do not think, we cannot think through what it is we feel, because thought just doesn't come in to play. Like a physical addiction, even years after separation, we can find ourselves musing on these individuals, where they are, what they are doing, and know, in our heart of hearts, that if this other person suddenly walked in to a room, we would be incapable of acting in any way other than foolishly. We might even toss all caution to the wind, all our commitments, the demands of our real life, for that one chance. Like an addiction, these kinds of relentless irrational responses to other persons feel so good yet are, in the end, bad for us. Indeed, as Herod's example shows, we might just find ourselves selling our very souls for an opportunity to express our desire.

We Americans are more confused about romantic love than just about any topic which I can name. We are Goethe's Faust, quite willing to sell our souls to the devil in the hope that the mystery of love - for which there is no solution other than to live - will be revealed to us. In song and (usually really bad) story, in the depth of passion and the quiet of reflection, we contemplate the ways we create spaces in our lives for others without ever thinking that we risk far more than simple heartbreak.

Herod is smitten with his sister-in-law. He is entranced by his niece. He offers anything to her. When the demand for the head of John the Baptizer is made, he complies even against his own disposition to believe John is not only a Holy man, but perhaps even a Prophet of God. He does so to honor his own pledge; he does so, also, because he loves Herodias. Woe betide the person who offers his or her whole being to another human being; very often this is accepted, to our regret.

Luke's Gospel quotes Jesus as saying that unless we hate pretty much every thing in our lives - our families and even our own lives - we are not worthy to be called his disciples. Someone recently claimed that he did not believe Jesus meant this literally. I, on the other hand, believe this is a genuine saying of Jesus, and I not only accept it, but think it is the heart of Christian discipleship. Unless we are willing to say "No" to everything we hold dear, one of those things may just place a demand upon us that leads us to giving away all that is most precious and important in our lives.

Virtual Tin Cup

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