The Psalm for today asks us two questions. The one is, “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord, and who can stand in his holy place?” And the other one is, “Who is this King of glory, and who is the Lord?” “Who has the right to go up the Lord’s hill, and who may enter his holy Temple?” And, “Who is this Great King?”
The previous scene to the gospel for today, ended with Jesus’ sending out his disciples and their mission and activities, saying, “Jesus called the twelve and began to send them out, and gave them authority over the evil spirits. . . . And they went out and proclaimed that people should turn away from their sins. They cast out many demons, and anointed the sick with oil and healed them.”
And then, the gospel of today is saying, “King Herod heard about their mission, because Jesus’ name had become widespread. And, some people were saying, John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” That is, Jesus is a risen John the Baptist, and the mighty powers are at work in him. And even his disciple proclaimed like John the Baptist that all should repent and they cast out demons and cured the sick.” “No way! It’s not possible” he thought. Yes, he was beheaded, that’s the truth. They brought his head on a platter, and they gave it to Salome. The guests at the banquet, all of them, saw it. But, how . . . .”
He remembered well that when John was alive, he kept accusing him in public, and even in the prison. “It is not right for you, Herod, to marry your brother’s wife! Turn away from your sins. The Kingdom of heaven, the new order, is near. Do those things that will show that you have turned from your sins. The ax is ready to cut down the trees at the roots; every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire.”
“However,” He might say, “I am innocent of his death. I know he is a righteous and holy man. Honestly, I liked to listen to him. As you know, I have refused to kill him. I admit that I am not a good person. But, . . . I am not such a bad person. I have tried to protect him from others. My wife, Herodias, really wanted to kill him. But I refused to do. Look, Herodias and Salome. They are murderers in fact. Not I.” “Look at them sitting around my banquet table, my courtiers, officers, and leaders, and my soldiers, and other guests. They all enjoyed, danced, ate, and all took part in beheading John.” “I am a king, I should do what they expect me to do for them. I have the responsibility to protect them, to please them. They are my people and I should satisfy their needs. In fact, they hated John more than me. As you know, John had kept making them uncomfortable, shameful, feel guilty. He really made them upset and angry.” “In some sense, I did it, instead of them and for them. John was just a trouble-maker. The world does not like such a person. Please let me go, please stop bothering us. Just let us do and live in our own ways. It’s enough for us. Nothing has happened, and nothing will happen.”
He just heard his words, not listened to in heart and mind and soul. He refused to turn away from his sins. The word of John was not planted into him, and he did not bear fruits of the words. Instead, . . . he beheaded him because of his ridiculous and drunken oaths and because of his guests and his own reputation. And above all, he beheaded him for fear to lose his power, his authority, his reputation, his possessions, and his own world. He thought he was a king at least in his own world. However, he was just a human being possessed by fear. He feared to turn away from his sins, feared to step down from the throne in his own world, and feared to confess that he is a human being who fears the Lord and that the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it, and the Lord is the King of glory. In fact, however, not only King Herod but also all of them in his feast are the participants of the banquet of death, not of the banquet of life. They all are the players in the drama of death. They all enjoyed, laughed, drunk, danced on the stage of death, or did nothing.
The Lord today is asking through the Psalm, “Who is the king of glory to you, and to them here and now? And do you really think you can ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in the holy place?”
Herod and the people sitting and dancing around the banquet had to fear the Lord, the King of kings, who is merciful and gracious, and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, who will not always accuse, nor will keep his anger forever, and who does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities (Psalm 103).
“Who is the most powerful person in this Herod’s birthday banquet? Is it Herod, or his wife, Herodias, or Salome, or his noble guests? Or John the Baptist in prison?” “Who is the person being seized with fear? Is it Herod who beheaded John, or the John who was beheaded by him?” John is the man who seeks God and comes into the presence of the God of Jacob. In the wilderness, the word of God came to him. And then he was bold to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near. Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” He knows that he is only the voice of someone shouting in the desert, making a straight path for the Lord to come. When he heard in prison about those things that Jesus was doing, he sent some of his disciples to him to ask, . . . “Tell me, are you the promised One whom I have dreamed to come, and have been waiting for, and have proclaimed? Or, should I wait for someone else?” Then, Jesus answered them, “Yes, I am. . . . Go back and tell John what you hear and see: the blind can see, the lame can walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” “Blessed are those who have no doubts about me!” (Matthew 11).
John is the man who has no doubts about Jesus, the Son of God, the One who is to come. He is in prison, but he has no fear. He is free liked a bird. His King has come already. He knows Herod cannot behead his hope, and his faith in the Great King, in the Kingdom of heaven. Jesus is not a resurrected John the Baptist. Yes, he was beheaded by Herod. But in some sense, the John has been raised in Jesus already, . . . because God will vindicate him in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord, and who can stand in his holy place?” The Psalm answered, “Those who are pure in act and in thought, who do not worship idols or make false promises.” And, “The Lord will bless them and save them; God will declare them innocent. Such are the people who come to God, who come into the presence of the God of Jacob.”
John the Baptist is one of those who ascend the hill of the Lord, and stand in his holy Temple. He is one of those who are pure in act and in thought. He is one of those who seek him and seek his face. He is one of those who match his other dimensions of life to his worship and faith in God. He is one of those who live the life of integrity in God.
Jesus calls us today and send us out into the world to live the life of John the Baptist, saying, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear God who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). And, “the Kingdom of heaven, and the King of glory, and the hope that John the Baptist held, was not beheaded, and is never beheaded. But, turn away from your sins, from your ways.” “Do what will show that you have turned from your sins. Love your God. Love your neighbor. Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must share it.”
“Who is the King of glory? Who can ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in his holy Temple? I am the Lord, the King of glory. And those who are pure in mind, heart, and thought, and pure in act, and live the life of integrity in me, may go up the hill and enter my holy Temple.”
Let us bless the Lord. Amen.