This weekend’s Gospel feels like anything but. It’s the story from Mark of John the Baptist’s execution; a birthday party for king and company leads to debauchery and a twisted retribution. Indeed, God and Jesus never really show up in the text, except a brief mention at the beginning of our passage.
So why read it for worship? What possible Good News can be gleaned from such a sickly field of weedy growth?
Much, I think. And enough that we can share this little bit as a teaser for Sunday and still keep things from being redundant - the non-Engineering, bad kind of redundant.
How comfortable are we in excusing the actions of the powerful? Oh sure, we can and will spend plenty of time getting frothy mad at Herod, but we must also recognize our place in stories of this type. We might not be kings and queens, but we’ve been to enough parties where they’ve thrown their weight around and we’ve not said a word.
In a somewhat recent NY Times Opinion piece Emi Nietfeld wrote movingly about her experiences at Google New York City and the narrative she’d embraced about what a fantastic company it is and how it’s doing good in the world, which felt wonderful until her manager became her harasser and then “As soon as my complaint with H.R. was filed, Google went from being a great workplace to being any other company: It would protect itself first.”
This isn’t to single out Google, but they are an easy target because of their claims to being a better type of company.
Shockingly, when systems - any systems, even generally good ones - are made up of human beings they will inevitably seek their own preservation, even by lopping off heads to save face, when that is the easier thing to do than actually addressing an uncomfortable or threatening problem.
Stories like these demonstrate part of the reason we practice speaking, out loud, our general Confessions. In being open and honest about our failings we train ourselves to speak openly and honestly about the failings of the systems we work or play in - even when that is difficult. And while that might make our Sunday feel a bit of a downer, it can also mean the folks like Emi up above have people with them after those HR conversations don’t make traction.