One of the great sadness’s in life is losing close friends and relatives, and that was true for Jesus just as it is for us. Today’s Gospel reading tells of the untimely death of John the Baptist, at the whim of the tyrant, Herod. When Jesus heard of this he takes what we might call today ‘Compassionate leave’ by choosing to go away from the crowds to a deserted place, to come to terms with his grief.
What may well have heightened his grief is the way John the Baptist died. It reminds us of how precarious life was in Jesus’ time. There were few safety nets for the ordinary man or woman in the street, and fewer checks and balances to moderate and hold tyrants like Herod to account. However, the Gospel reading clearly suggests that Herod was deeply troubled by his actions, to the extent that he thought Jesus was John the Baptist come back to life.
You might ask why John the Baptist was arrested in the first place, and the answer is that John the Baptist had publicly challenged Herod’s moral behaviour. Today in western democracies where we generally enjoy freedom of speech its not uncommon for public figures like the Royal Family, our politicians, as well as the rich and famous, to find themselves constantly under scrutiny for what they say and how they behave, but not so in Jesus’ day. However, throughout the Bible we find people of faith with courage who do stand up and name injustice, cruelty and bad behaviour, often at risk of their lives. They are the prophetic voices that remind us of our better selves, and call us back to live the vision God set forth in the Law of Moses.
One of my favourite stories about this concerns the honoured King David who does so much to build Israel’s identity and safe-guard her people. Yet sometimes greatness can have an adverse effect on people, and David oversteps the proper boundaries set by the Law to steal what didn’t belong to him.
He takes another man’s wife and to add flame to the fire has that man – a trusted and loyal warrior – killed in order to cover up his crime. It’s pretty dark and dirty stuff especially for a hero. And it’s then that Nathan the prophet confronts David and calls him to account, and David is wise enough and ‘big’ enough to take it, knowing that what Nathan has said is true and that this was God’s word addressing him. Too often today people in public office don’t have the same courage and try to hide behind half truths and even lies rather than to admit their fault, accept the consequences and make reparation.
It’s often been said that religion and politics don’t mix, especially when church leaders raise difficult questions and challenge politicians to be more accountable on issues of social justice. People in public office may not like being held to account, whether it be by the media, by pressure groups or religious leaders, but the Christian Church of all persuasions is called to seek justice and the welfare of the vulnerable in our society. It is important that in doing this the church doesn’t act in a party-political way.
This week is NAIDOC week. NAIDOC is an acronym for ‘National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee’. It’s a week for learning more about our Aboriginal and Islander brothers and sisters, their culture, their art, and listening to their voices. Over many years our church has sought to build firm friendships with our First Peoples, and we have entered into a living Covenant with the Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress to foster reconciliation. Some years ago St Johns placed a plaque in our gardens acknowledging the aboriginal custodianship of the land on which our church is built, and our Church Council has recently agreed that an ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ be posted up on our screen before worship. These are small but important gestures toward fostering reconciliation with our Aboriginal and Islander Community. If you want to read more about what our church is doing you could read a study guide that has recently been prepared by our National Assembly. If you are interested you can download and read the guide called ‘Statement from the Heart’. Here is the link: https://mk0unitingchurcq6akw.kinstacdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/v1.1-Statement-of-the-Heart-online.pdf