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The Gospels – The Beheading of John the Baptist

Mark 6:14-30

Calloused hands, calloused feet, calloused hearts. Walking around barefoot builds toughness into the souls of your feet. Hot sand, rocks, landscape that would normally reject passage by a tenderfoot, is no match for the person with calloused, desensitized feet. It’s the same with our hands. My dad wrenched on cars and set ceramic tile. He did everything barehanded and his paws had callouses on top of callouses. If a server ever cautioned him about a hot plate he would smirk and pick it up or reposition it at will, feeling next to nothing, while the rest of us would nudge a sizzling plate into position with a folded-up cloth napkin, being extra careful not to touch it.

Callouses desensitize.

Take the story in Mark chapter six about the beheading of John the Baptist. John was a good man. He was filled with the Spirit of God and led people to prepare their hearts and lives for the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. John didn’t mince words, his mission didn’t accommodate small talk and prattle.

When Herod left his wife, taking up with Herodias, the wife of his brother, John called him out, and, Herod tossed him in jail. Herodias, however, was mad as a hornet. She seethed with hate toward John and wanted to kill him but didn’t dare without Herod’s approval.

Why are people so mean? Especially these days, but even back then. The man called out your sin, now he’s in jail, get over it, move on. But no, she wasn’t satisfied and wanted his life in exchange for being offended or losing face. Ridiculous.

These days someone can accidentally pull in front of us in traffic, bump us unintentionally in a market, even wear a cap for the opposing team, and we get insulted to the point of violence. And no one seems to mind. Our hearts have become more calloused than our hands.

Then, at Herod’s birthday party, his daughter performed a dance which pleased Herod to the extent that he offered her a gift of whatever she wanted. She asked Herodias for ideas because the sky was the limit – up to half the kingdom! Herodias didn’t miss a beat. She was so consumed with vengeful hate toward John that she told the girl to ask for the prophet’s head. Why not a riding horse or a cottage at the beach? Why was her heart so dark and cold that as a present she would want to harm another human being?

Herod deeply regretted his vow but didn’t have the integrity to stand up and denounce the request. John, then, was unceremoniously beheaded, his head brought back to the party and presented to the girl who gave it to Herodias. Gross. Heartless. Evil.

What does it take to break our hearts these days? None of us are related to John the Baptist as far as we know. He lived two thousand years ago in a very different culture. Why should we care?

We care because he was a man, a brother, a human being. A person created in the image of God who went about doing good and harming no one. But our hearts and minds are calloused, desensitized to the evil being perpetrated all around us. Abortion, child abuse, neglect, human trafficking, road rage, mass shootings. In the news one day and out the next. Talking points for one side of the aisle or the other justifying why their team should be in charge. We’re desensitized to the pain of others. God help us.

The only cure for a calloused heart is knowing Jesus. Jesus will turn your calloused, uncaring, selfish, dead, heart of stone, into a heart of flesh and blood. He will give you a vision for good, passion for the poor and needy, and courage to take a stand for children. He will take your selfish heart and make it selfless, replace hate with love, exchange grudge and vengeance with forgiveness and love.

Help us, Lord, sweep across our lives and land with a wind of repentance today, in Jesus name.

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