Epiphany 5, Narrative Lectionary B
5 February 2012
I am an adventurous eater. This past Monday, in Progreso, Mexico, I walked through the town and I was in search of one of my favorite foods: ceviche. I adore the combination of raw fish, with cilantro, onions, and tomatoes, marinated in lime juice. It gives me the shivers to think about it. So there I was, with a friend, in the center of the town market, where only locals were shopping and eating. I find a stand that sells ceviche and I buy an enormous plate, with homemade taco chips and a Mexican coke. My friend is a vegetarian and wouldn’t touch my plate of citrus shrimp with a ten-foot-pole. She watches as I scoop up the first bite and put it in my mouth and roll my eyes in delight.
As I try not to make a spectacle of myself, I tell her that I will try almost any food at least once. There are some foods the origins of which I would prefer not to know until I eat them, but I will try them. Ceviche, though, is my favorite. I know I’m rolling a large set of dice to eat raw fish in a Mexican market, but to me, the risk is worth it. (I know what bad fish tastes like and not to keep going.) I told my friend that each time I don’t get sick it makes me bolder. In truth, if I got sick, I wouldn’t stop eating ceviche, I just wouldn’t eat at the place that made me sick anymore. Each time could be the bad fish time that knocks me flat, but I’m not dead yet. (What a life motto!)
What does this have to do with today’s reading? Think of the Jesus of Mark’s gospel- a very human Jesus who has been setting the countryside on fire with the help of the Holy Spirit. Now he comes to his hometown. On the outskirts of Nazareth, he’s probably playing the scenario in his head in which he is warmly greeted, his teachings praised and admired, his mother honored, and people he’s known for years relieved of suffering. On the other hand, his hometown is likely expecting a hero from whom they can gain enough notoriety to become a place on the map.
NAZARETH: Birthplace of the Messiah! See his carpentry! Drink from his cup! See his shul! Threads from his cloak for sale! Collect the whole set of Jesus earthenware!
People are not impressed by his message of forgiveness of sins and his miracles of healing. They insult him by calling him referring only to his mother (“Son of Mary”) and not his father. His healings are ineffective, except for a few people whom I imagine coming to him in the middle of the night and asking for relief.
I think Jesus is having an epiphany. This is not going to go smoothly. In his own hometown, he gets some bad fish. Does this undo his message or his mission? It doesn’t but it makes it a little harder to push forward. It becomes a little clearer that not everyone wants to hear the proclamation of the kingdom, the good news of God’s nearness, the possibility of renewal in repentance and forgiveness. Jesus goes on, despite the incident. He’s not dead yet.
He sends out the disciples in mission as well. Something for us to remember is that the disciples are going out with good news, with a gospel message that has nothing to do with resurrection. The resurrection hasn’t happened yet, so the good news they offer is precisely about the action God is doing in the world AT THAT TIME and how people can be a part of it, through repentance, forgiveness, and healing. Their message isn’t about the afterlife, rewards, or mystery, but concrete change in present-day life.
However, Jesus warns them, not everyone will want to hear this message. Occasionally the disciples will run into some bad fish. They are to shake off their shoes and go on. If they are not dead yet, then they are not done proclaiming.
Then we come to a flashback. The last time we saw John the Baptizer was at the end of Chapter 1 of Mark. He was arrested. Now we learn that he was arrested because he spoke out against the marriage of Herod Antipas and Herodias. Herodias had been married to Herod’s brother, Philip, but she decided Herod was more upwardly mobile. So she divorced Philip (strike 1), married his brother (strike 2), and plotted against John the Baptizer who dared to call her on her sin (strike 3).
The dance of her daughter might not be the sexy dance of the seven veils that we always see portrayed, but an enthusiastic demonstration of talent or nationalism by a young daughter making her father proud. Herod likely thought she would ask for a pony, but instead she consults with her mother and receives the head of John on a platter. Not exactly what Herod (or likely the daughter) had in mind.
John got some bad fish. And it killed him. Herod could have redeemed John, but he didn’t. He could redeem his actions later when Jesus is brought before him, but he won’t have the nerve to do so then either. Herodias is a bad fish and her rot has infected her family.
So what does this story have to do with us, besides really stretching out my ceviche metaphor?
I hardly ever give specifics on how you should act. We are all different people, in whom the Spirit moves in different ways. The ministry to which you are called may not be the word of the Lord for me. However, I’m going to share with you how this moves me and I think it will affect you as well.
1) am a bold eater,
2) believe in the hope of the resurrection,
3) trust in the presence of God in the world from day to day
then why am I not living more boldly?
Why am I timid in speaking the truth?
Why don’t I live as boldly as I would eat?
If my standard for eating is: “I’m not dead yet”, why is this not even more my standard for faithful living?
I am willing to risk my life for raw fish. Shouldn’t I be willing to do the same thing for Jesus, through whom I believe that death is not the end, but a new beginning?
Not everyone is going to hear what I am saying. Some people who hear it will not like it. However, I am not called to quietude, but full proclamation, sinning boldly, and loving Christ more boldly still.
Now is the time! Now is the day of our salvation. Today we are sent out to proclaim the truth of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and supply to the entire world and to do it in BOLD, DRAMATIC, LOUD, LOVING ways. We are called to serve our neighbors in all kinds of ways. We hesitate and the moments are lost, but this doesn’t have to be.
The Spirit is with us. Let us live boldly. We are not dead yet.