Friday Focus: Deliver Us From Evil
King Herod heard of
it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some were saying, "John the baptizer
has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in
him." But others said, "It is Elijah." And others said, "It
is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." But when Herod heard of
it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised." For Herod himself had sent men who arrested
John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother
Philip's wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod,
"It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." And Herodias had a grudge against him, and
wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he
was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was
greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came
when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and
for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she
pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for
whatever you wish, and I will give it." And he solemnly swore to her,
"Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom." She
went out and said to her mother, "What should I ask for?" She
replied, "The head of John the baptizer." Immediately she rushed back
to the king and requested, "I want you to give me at once the head of John
the Baptist on a platter." The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard
for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately
the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John's head. He went
and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to
the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about
it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. Mark 6:14-29
This week’s gospel is perhaps the starkest exposition of
pure evil in the entire New Testament. As such it seems far out of step with
our times. We have come to shroud evil in elaborate scenarios of psychological cause
and effect. Much of this theory is soundly reasoned, amply documented and
clinically valid. But much of it has proven to be fantasy-based, psycho-babble. Today much theory remains a hybrid of both,
limited by our still elementary understanding of genetics and brain chemistry.
And just as our knowledge of the mechanics of Creation is still growing; so too
is our understanding of evil. But over the centuries, the central premise is
irrefutable: Evil is. It exists. It is toxic, invasive, ubiquitous and
resilient. We are all carriers. And we are all victims.
Til the day we die, we are all host organisms to this blight.
It manifests itself in sin, often disguised even from its host by layers of self-righteousness.
What is satisfying to the sinner must be right. What inhibits gratification
must be rejected and ultimately destroyed. And that was the fate of John the
Baptist. Evil had thoroughly infected Herod and his whole family. They reveled
in it. John exposed their evil to the people and to themselves. He had to go.
In this, Herod adds hypocrisy to his other manifestations
of evil. He does not hesitate to murder because John was blameless. He hesitates
solely because John’s goodness is of such renown that it will be difficult to
hide the sin. But in his advanced state
of evil, Herod’s decision is a no-brainer. Go with gratification every time.
Just keep the party going.
Doubtless, few of us will ever confront evil on this
dramatic scale. In our times the world has experienced the massive horror of
the Holocaust and the sudden terror of 9/11. But however buffeted we are on the
periphery, our lives are not lived on an epic scale. We live largely by
routine. And that permits us to view evil as a distant abstraction, confined to
slasher movies and crime reporting.
But evil is not a distant abstraction. It is an immediate
and palpable reality. It even has a home address. Satan lives and is dispensing
evil worldwide, full-blast, 24/7. Referencing Satan is not considered a good
career move for preachers these days. But if we are to rejoice in the Lord, it
helps to have a genuine appreciation of the opposition. And don’t just take my
word for it. By rough count the Bible refers to the Devil by various titles
over two-hundred times. Scripture has increasingly been subject to wide ranging
interpretation. But none has yet explained away this avalanche of Biblical
reference to the author of evil.
This gospel gives us a window into rampant evil. It
rarely springs up this full grown. Rather it constantly probes for fertile
ground, seeking voids to fill, probing for rough spots to gain a toe hold. Our
prevention and our cure for evil are both the same… the love of Christ. He
taught us to pray: deliver us from evil. And
he also taught us to do our part. Fill the voids with love. Smooth the rough
spots with prayer. Flush the filth with God’s forgiveness. Forgive yourself.
Then forgive others as you would hope to be forgiven. Fill today with the love
of Christ. Share it. Spread it. Proclaim it. Rejoice in the Lord. Thank him for
his saving grace. Then get up and do it again tomorrow…another good day closer