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.
Sadly, “speaking truth to power” has become a cliché. As with all clichés, it has been overused, trivialized and largely robbed of its meaning. “Truth” in this context is some moral principle that’s been violated that the hearer doesn’t want to be reminded of, and who possesses the power (political, physical, psychological) to retaliate against the truth-teller. Consider those Russians protesting the invasion of Ukraine!
John the Baptist apparently was very good at truth-telling. He finds himself in prison because he has publicly humiliated King Herod by calling him out on marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias, and Herod isn’t going to stand for it. Jesus too is a truth-teller — perhaps the ultimate voice in speaking truth to power. He is constantly criticizing the well-connected, powerful, and mighty, be they leaders in the Temple or representatives of the emperor in Rome. He angrily overturns the tables of the money changers in the Temple. And ultimately, the Roman authorities see him as such a threat to their empire, they must silence him. Let’s remember, Jesus was not crucified for preaching “do unto others.” He was crucified because he spoke truth to the powerful occupiers of Israel, a truth understood by all the common folks who suffered under that oppression.
Congressman John Lewis cautioned, “Get into good trouble, necessary trouble.” And Jesus told his disciples (and us) that in the name of the Gospel, we too should speak truth to power and get into some Gospel Trouble. If we are NOT in trouble in Jesus’ name, is it really the Gospel we are preaching?
O God of Justice and Mercy, show us the truth you would have us understand, and give us the courage to speak that truth, even to the powerful. And if speaking the truth gets us into trouble, help us bear it with grace and peace. And when the truth is spoken to us, help us hear it and discern what you would have us do. Amen.