Yesterday at church the passage we focused on is the passage in Mark in which you hear the story of the beheading of John the Baptist. Yeah, it’s a super uplifting passage. Ok, maybe “uplifting” is not the right word (unless your talking about John’s head, in which case, pretty accurate), it is a weird and disturbing story. So, for fun let’s do a quick recap.
Herod Antipas gets word that Jesus is around. His first thought is “Man, that’s gotta be John the Baptist! But, shoot, I already killed that guy!” He is obviously concerned. We then get a nice little flashback to how Herod came about to kill John the Baptist.
Herod first married the daughter of King Aretas IV, Phasaelis. However, he divorced her for his brother’s, Herod II/ Philip (seriously, his Dad was super creative with names apparently,) wife. Her name was Herodias. At some point Herodias divorced Herod II/Philip and married Herod Antipas.
Whew! Did you get all that? Anyone feel like that’s a lot of Herod’s/Herodias’ to keep track of? And yes, in case you were wondering, they all are related.
With all this spouse divorcing and swapping John the Baptist decided to do what John the Baptist does and opens his loud mouth. He very loudly proclaims that taking your brother’s wife as your own while your brother is still alive is against the will of God and let’s face it…icky.
Now, Herod actually likes listening to John. He thinks this guy is pretty interesting. He can’t understand a word of what he is saying but he enjoys trying. Yet, his new wife, Herodias is not a fan of being publicly called out. So like any decent upright amoral woman she sets to scheming to get her way.
Herod throws a big ol’ party for himself and Herodias’ daughter (historically this would be Salome) comes out and does some kind of amazing dance for Herod and his buddies. Herod is moved and promises her anything she desires. Salome, being a devoted daughter and quick on the uptake, runs to her mother and asks what she wants. Herodias wants John’s head on a platter. Salome goes to Herod in front of all his cronies at the party and says “bring me the head of John the Baptist.”
Herod is troubled but not wanting to lose his street cred follows through and beheads John.
So, there you have it. Delightful little story right? My pastor did a wonderful job relating this to our own life. Talking about how when we follow Jesus or are so like Jesus that people think of us it can lead us to the dangerous place of confrontation even with our political leaders. It was a very good sermon and I urge you all to come some time to our services and hear some more great preaching by my pastor.
Yet, I did wonder at the fact that he didn’t point out the main take away I saw this week. (Probably because my takeaway isn’t nearly as holy). Every time I hear this story I think. “Loopholes! Herod, why didn’t you think of the loopholes?!”
This guy is a ruler, he should know better than to offer everything carte blanche. Yet, here he is offering all up without thinking of the possible consequences. Then instead of saying, “I know I said anything but don’t you think that’s a little overboard?” He just goes along with it because a man’s gotta save face. That’s a double whammy of crazy.
As I sit in my current situation, I am fairly wary of what feels like the universe’s exploitation of loopholes. When I was a child one of the things I would first do when given instructions it seek out the loopholes. For instance, if I was told that when I got home from school I needed to clean my room (a still dreaded task). I would walk home but probably go to the library first, thereby shortening the amount of time I would have to actually clean my room. Dinner came faster once I did come home and I would have to stop cleaning in order to join the family. The task may not have always been done timely, but technically I did as asked. Mom and Dad became adept at closing all the loopholes.
I still look for the loopholes. It’s like a fun game. If you are the one to exploit them loopholes are awesome. But if you are the one they are being exploited against, well, just ask John the Baptist how that feels.
I was supposed to be starting my new treatment already but bureaucratic hoops and loopholes have been holding this process up. I still don’t have a scheduled start date. All the while the vasculitis is spreading more rapidly and more painfully. And it’s hard not to resent the loophole that brought us here. Unfortunately for me I can’t blame any specific scheming person here. This is just they way of the medical world here. It’s fairly infuriating at times.
Meanwhile, I’m sitting here feeling a little bit like Herod going “Well that was not what I was expecting.” What to do now?
Luckily, I’m not really into the whole beheading thing so we can cross that off my agenda. But I am kind of into the whole “saving face” thing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m going around worrying I’m gonna lose my street cred as a sick person. I am a bit worried that I might lose my reputation (however flimsily earned or not) as a sick person with some kind of grace for others and herself.
Part of my process of dealing with the difficulties of this life is to write out the story of my trauma and as I write I think about my nieces. I think about what they may encounter once they are my age and what I hope I could tell them if they ever have to go through what I have. What piece of hope in their lives can they look to when everything seems so dark? I write for these future women, who because they are related to me, have a higher risk of living a life like mine both medically and spiritually. That being said, that’s the reason I think so many people believe I do this whole life with even a modicum of love and grace. But that’s not really my doing at all. That’s just how I’ve learned to find grace. It’s easier to find when you are looking for it for those you love without question. Grace is the ultimate loophole and with the Holy it’s exploitation is never wasted or earned. It just is. It’s always there ready to be taken or given.
But these worldly loopholes. They can make a person crazy. They can lead us to places we never wanted to be before. They can urge us to actions we never would have sought out. These worldly loopholes rarely leave room for worldly grace.
This evening, my sister and her two amazing children are arriving for a week long visit. To my mind they couldn’t have come at a better time. Who better to out-wait this current frustration with than my sister and those kids that I think of every time I write. My sister’s daughter is a teenager now. She’s old enough to know what I’m going through and understands it as much as anyone can. What will I show her? How will she remember back on this time if someday she feels the sting of bureaucratic worldly loopholes? Without their presence here this week I may be tempted to give in totally to my anger and frustration. But the Divine gave me a loophole of grace when my sister’s trip just happened to line up with this particular hurt.
I’ve decided that perhaps saving face is not always a bad thing if that face is one marked by grace. Perhaps, that’s what we should be doing. Treating our character like that at all times. Who is my best version? Just act out your best version even if internally you feel like a fraud. Actions shape us into who we are. Actions are our legacy just as much as anything else. So, go ahead, exploit that Holy loophole of grace and save that wonderful face that mirrors the Divine. And when it comes to making a deal with someone, see what kind of loopholes you leave behind.
Are you someone that leaves worldly ones? Or are you some that leaves Holy ones? I’m praying I leave the Holy ones. And I’m hoping that my face continues to be marked by that grace.
Thanks be to God.