Sometimes films and TV programmes make it really clear that something terrible is about to happen. It might be swelling of some eerie music, or a shadow that appears ominously in the background. It might be that moment when the hero is fiddling with the car stereo instead of focusing on the road, and you know he’s about to crash. Directors have a good way of showing us that we’re destined for disaster.

Mark is a brilliant director, and organises his material similarly in Mark 6:6b-30. He sets the scene clearly with the apostles going out to preach a message of repentance, and everyone has to respond with acceptance or rejection (Mark 6:8-11). But sandwiched in the middle is a peculiar story about Herod, and how he responded to John the Baptist’s message of repentance (Mark 6:18).

To begin with, we’re tempted to give Herod the benefit of the doubt – he was, after all, listening to John (Mark 6:20); he probably thought that his relationship with Herodias was “not that dangerous”. But Mark wants to make it really clear from the start that we’re heading for a car crash. Even when Herod is listening to John, John is bound in prison for the sake of Herodias (Mark 6:17), and she wants to kill him (Mark 6:19). If you really wanted to keep John safe, would you keep him locked up so he has no way of escape?

Of course, Herod’s true colours are exposed in the gruesome story of Herod’s party; and as our heads are left spinning with the macabre detail, we’re left with a sobering thought: there is no middle ground. Repentance is an ‘all or nothing’ thing; and for those who haven’t truly repented, the eerie music has started to swell…

Some questions for thought:

  • when we are told to repent, what makes us want to sit on the fence? How do we try to convince ourselves that the ‘middle ground’ is safe? How does Mark warn us?
  • is this passage particularly convicting? Why not turn to prayer and ask for God’s help to fully repent.