Cultural Traps

Cultural Traps | Mark 6:21-28

“Now an opportune time came on his birthday, when Herod gave a banquet for his nobles, military commanders, and the leading men of Galilee. When Herodias’s own daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me whatever you want, and I’ll give it to you.” So he swore oaths to her: “Whatever you ask me I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” Then she went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for? ” “John the Baptist’s head! ” she said. Immediately she hurried to the king and said, “I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head on a platter — right now! ” Though the king was deeply distressed, because of his oaths and the guests he did not want to refuse her. The king immediately sent for an executioner and commanded him to bring John’s head. So he went and beheaded him in prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.” (Mark 6:21-28 HCSB)

It’s really easy to overlook important details if you hurry along to your next destination. That’s a lesson I learned while traveling on international mission trips. Don’t rush too much. Stop and notice the details, they can be very interesting and very important. I was making that mistake with our current focal passage. Why are we back here, again? As you’ll recall from last week, we’ve already read and spent time looking at this passage and this story. What details did we overlook, miss or rush through? Last week we primarily focused on the outcome of John’s faith and commitment to God and we used that as a means of understanding that we may face opposition, rejection and possible death in our pursuit of God and His will. That’s really a lesson that the church needs to hear and learn. Pursuit of God’s will may lead us onto a difficult path but He will walk that path with us. Stay faithful.

This week, I want us to consider the other characters in the story and specifically focus on Herod, Herodias, Salome and their choices. I had every intention of moving along to the next story and have even written the first several paragraphs of that lesson. But God’s Spirit kept bringing me back to this part of the passage and drawing my attention to Herod’s interest in John’s message and Herodias’ hatred of John and his message. So, I want us to spend some time this week considering these issues.

I mentioned last week that Herod was drawn to John’s message, troubled by John’s message, but not altered, changed or transformed by John’s message. It is possible to hear the truth, be drawn to it, fascinated by it and, yet, reject it and continue on the path of rebellion against God. Now to be honest, we don’t often recognize our decision as rebellion towards God. We tend see it more as a life choice, focus or priority. We don’t reject belief and trust in God outright, but it sure doesn’t take center stage in our life and result in change. It is very important that you notice what happens in you when you take that approach to faith. To use Jesus’ words, “you can’t serve two masters. (see Matt. 6:19-24)” Herod wanted to hear John’s message and may have even considered acting on it, but in the end he chose his reputation and career goals over faith and obedience.

However, Herod isn’t the only one impacted in this story by John’s life, John’s message, John’s call to repentance and the rejection of that message and call. Herodias takes a VERY different approach. It is important to note, Herod and Herodias share a very similar family heritage and religious background. She’s not named Herodias because she’s married to Herod but because she’s from the same family.

Even though they share a common family heritage and religious background, Mark NEVER tells us that Herodias has any interest or desire to hear John’s message. On the contrary, she wants John and his message silenced. Permanently. She wants him dead. D E A D – dead! Herod protects John’s life because he knows him to be a righteous and holy man but the same cannot be said of Herodias. She doesn’t care one little bit about John’s righteous spirit or holy commitment to God. She wants his head – on a platter! This woman is on a mission and nothing is going to stand in her way.

Now, we could spend a lot time talking about all of the modern conversations surrounding these issues, like patriarchy, misogyny and oppression of women just to name a few, but we won’t. Why? Because those issues are really irrelevant if you understand the core problem – rejection of God and His authority. But don’t those issues deserve to be discussed? Perhaps, but not in this context. In this context we have a woman who rejects God and His moral standards, abuses her position and even corrupts the very moral fiber of her daughter as a means to an end and that’s my point. The means don’t justify, indeed, cannot justify the end. You cannot justify murder as the means to overcoming the issues Herodias faced. Herodias didn’t change the truth by killing John, she only silenced it in the moment.

Many of you may not like what I just said, but I beg you to stay with me a bit longer. This is the issue we face in our modern culture in the rhetoric surrounding the issues women face in our world. I do believe these issues need to be addressed but they need to be addressed in a way where we aren’t justifying immoral means to achieve a righteous end goal. Many good women are justifying the murder of innocent children through abortion as the means to achieve the righteous goal of freedom of choice and access to health care. I know some of these women and I know they don’t really believe you should kill innocent babies, but our culture has lured them into hearing and believing a lie because of the inequalities they face every day. We live in a culture that believes you win by being the loudest one in the conversation and shouting down those who oppose you. But hear this…

Noise doesn’t alter truth, it only makes it harder to hear and more challenging to follow.

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (John 8:31-32 HCSB)

So, Herodias seizes the opportune time to achieve her goal and to catch Herod in a trap he can’t escape. Unfortunately, Herod’s pride places him in the position of choosing between his will and God’s will. He throws this lavish and elaborate birthday party and invites all of the people he wants to impress and as a means to win their favor and secure his future. Herodias sees this as the perfect opportunity to lay her trap and permanently silence John and remove that morally righteous thorn in her flesh.

What does she do? She is so determined to get her way she USES her young daughter in a disgusting display of sexual seduction and entrapment. You may not initially see this in Mark’s description of these events, but you will if you look closely at two specific details. 1) This was an all male party as evidenced by Herodias’ absence when her daughter had to leave the event to seek her counsel before responding to Herod’s gift. 2) Herod’s response indicates that the dance was seductive and sexual in nature when he was so “pleased” that he swore to give her anything she wanted – up to half his kingdom. Yeah, let that sink in a bit. Herodias was so determined that she used her young daughter (12-14 years old) as seductive, sexual bait to lure in her husband, gain his favor and secure his agreement in her desire to kill John.

If you weren’t already disgusted by Herodias’ actions, I hope you are now. She used her own daughter as sexual bait to get what she wanted from her husband – John’s death. Salome is so committed to her mother and so influenced by her mother’s attitude, actions and choices that she goes back and relays her mother’s wish: John’s head. But, she took the demand even a step or two further: “and put it on a platter and bring it to me, RIGHT NOW!”

Our response to God and the moral choices we make influence and shape our children, their response to and obedience towards God. It is bad enough that Herodias took this path, but she brought her daughter along on the trip. When we choose to disobey God or make Him a secondary priority in our life our children are very aware of that choice. We don’t have to express it verbally because we say it very loudly and clearly with each decision we make.

God told Israelite parents to make Him and His word a priority in their lives and to teach their children to do the same by writing His word on their doorposts and on their gates. They were to wear them as a reminder on their forehead and on the back of their hands. They were to talk about those things when they sat down, when they ate, when they walked along the road, when they laid down at night for sleep and when they woke up the next morning and continued their daily lives. (see Deut. 6) He is telling us the same.

Notice what He didn’t say… He didn’t tell them to let the Preschool, Children’s Sunday School teacher, Youth Director or Pastor teach their kids these things. The PARENTS were to do it! It was to be something they saw on, around and in their homes. It was to be in their lives, all day, every day. Don’t just paint it on your walls or your gates, put it in your lives! Don’t just wear it on your forehead, the back of your hand or even on your t-shirt, speak it into their hearts by your daily actions. Don’t just have the Word of God on your table or your bookshelf but have it in your heart and on your mind. Let it be reflected in your attitude, visible in your actions and evidenced in your choices.

Herod really is your typical, modern era, cultural Christian husband and parent. He is totally focused on his career and his own selfish needs. His marriage is out of convenience and cultural or political advancement. His religious beliefs are mostly historical and embraced primarily for personal comfort or political/social gain. He has a few moral convictions stemming from these religious beliefs and while they hold some sway over his choices he is willing to compromise on them when it is expedient or when being dogmatic about them will lower his position or damage his influence. He appears to be totally driven by his personal aspirations and perceived sexual needs/desires. While these aspirations and needs often force him into compromising situations and are in conflict with his moral beliefs, his aspirations and desires always win.

While Herod had a few moral convictions, Herodias doesn’t appear to have any – no moral guardrails or guidance. She’s willing to use and abuse people to get what she wants, even her own daughter. I can tell you about all of the non-Biblical evidence to support my statement, but I think her willingness to use her own daughter is sufficient to make my point. What kind of mother would do that? Her own immoral attitudes and life choices are certainly reflected and even amplified in her daughter’s attitudes and actions.

The cultural traps we face today are no different than they were then. We lean into whatever is convenient, expedient, financially beneficial and personally gratifying. Our moral character and choices are becoming malleable and will bend and shift to fit our cultural environment and personal demands. We live in a morally ambiguous world and that kind of morality leads to situations and choices like I describe, above. That doesn’t give us peace, it puts us in a state of chaos and confusion.

We know that some things are just right and some things are just wrong. For example, we know that it is wrong for one man to murder another or for a mother to sexually exploit her daughter to get what she wants. But aren’t there areas of gray, things that aren’t fully black or white, right or wrong? I think you’ll find that things are often more black and white than we like to admit, but we need lots of help to see, to understand and to respond in the right way. We need lots of mercy, grace and forgiveness.

Never forget God loves you where you are, but He loves you too much to leave you there. He wants to bring you into Himself, into loving fellowship with Him and with others. He loves you like you are, sinful, dirty, broken, and hurt but He loves you too much to leave you like you are. He wants to make you loving, forgiving, merciful, gracious, patient, kind, gentle, good, faithful, joyful, peaceful and self-controlled. (see Gal. 5) Don’t fall into a cultural trap and end up like Herod, Herodias or Salome. Be like Jesus. Jesus wasn’t morally ambiguous or morally malleable but He was loving, gracious and forgiving.

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