Sermon by Rev. Lusmarina Campos Garcia
Based on Mark 6:14-29
Geneva, July 15 2012
‘Fascinated we remain’ - this is my title for this sermon.
The story of the gospel this morning places us in a feast – food, drinks, music, dance, seduction, beauty, politics, explicit and hidden interests, power game; all served with delicacy, as is proper to a King’s birthday party. Political negotiations were certainly being done. Political agreements normally take place in feasts like this. And then suddenly that beautiful young woman, powerfully seductive, fascinates the king. Fascination is a wonderful and dangerous place to be. It is wonderful and dangerous because it carries us off in such a compelling way that we loose the notion of where we are and even who we are. In Portuguese, the expression we use to describe this state of mind is: “to loose one’s head”. We are emptied of ourselves to be filled with the one who is fascinating us. We become so openly vulnerable that the other can possess us; our barriers fall, our resistance abandon us, our ground seems to disappear and we are exposed, bewitched, taken.
Drawn in this state of fascination, the king offers the young woman everything he can. “Half of my kingdom,” Herod offers. Since the maximum a woman could receive was half of what a man was worth, Herod offered everything he could (Cf. Ester 4:3; 7:2 as mentioned by Dan Nelson).
Have you ever been in this state of fascination, when you offer everything you can, give everything away, leave no reserves; when you are exposed, bewitched, taken? And what fascinated you -- a person, a piece of art, the Higgs boson, money, power, God?
When we are fascinated we are vulnerable, and therefore, more easily manipulated. We might be used, and not even realize we are being used. Does that mean we become victims of what fascinates us? We might. But of course, there is no innocence in our fascination. We are responsible for being fascinated and for what fascinates us.
What fascinates us has more to do with ourselves than with the other. Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher says that “we love more the desire than the desired person”. Making a parallel with Nietzsche I say, ‘we are more captivated by our fascination than by what fascinates us’.
A thing or a person has the power to carry us off because we give that power to it or to her. And we give such a power because that thing or person is somehow an echo of something within us.
Herod was fascinated by the beauty of that young woman. He offered everything. However, his offer was not innocent. His offer was a show of his power. He played the game of seduction in order to show his power. And he was caught in his own game.
Playing power games is often dangerous. One might win the game, but one might also be surprised by it, and the consequences can be damaging. In the case of the Gospel story, it cost John’s life. Historically speaking, it cost the king’s kingdom. The Gospel of Mark names him ‘King Herod’, but in fact, this is Antipas, the son of Herod the Great. Antipas was Tetrarch Galilee and Perea from 4 B.C. to 39 A.D. (Anno Domini) His ambition to be king led to his banishment in 39 A.D. under Caligula.
John’s death is not different from the many deaths that happen as consequence of the misuse of power, and the seductions surrounding it. It is not much different from the death of the people in Syria; 200 more died last Thursday in the city of Tremseh.
And today’s Herodias, who are they? They are those whose interests have more value than somebody’s life. Those who are shameless to the point of using their own children to get what they want. Those who want to perpetuate power on whatever cost. Those who are cruel to the extent of finding normal that people die when they question attitudes, behaviors, and policies. Those whose interests kill others.
What names have the ‘Herodias’ you know?
Aren’t we ourselves sometimes ‘Herodias’ also? Aren’t we driven by our own interests in ways that we also ‘kill’ others? Not literally, perhaps, but symbolically? Don’t we also take decisions that discourage our colleagues, companions, friends so deeply that they ‘die’ a little inside?
Herodias’ attitude is not too different from ours when we ignore the voice of those calling us to face our truth.
Both Amos, the prophet of the Old Testament, and John, faithfully spoke the word of God in spite of the danger to them from powerful rulers. Like them we are called to be witnesses to the truth of the gospel. Like them we are called to denounce what is rotten in political, social and institutional systems. Like them we are challenged to identify power games and stop them. Like them, we will be fascinated by God’s presence and will become less and less like Herodias and Herods, and more and more like the people God wants us to be. People who are not seduced by a distorted power, who don’t negotiate with the truth, who doesn’t use power to promote death.
If God fascinates us, we will be carried off in such a compelling way that we will be emptied of ourselves to be filled with the one before whom we just remain exposed, bewitched, taken. If God fascinates us, fascinated we remain.