Summary: Rash promises compared with the promise of Christ
Address for Evensong & Benediction, 8th July 2001
Given at Holy Spirit, Southsea, Diocese of Portsmouth
Text: Mark 6:7-29
In the name of God, the +Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Of course I love you. The Cheque’s in the Post. This won’t hurt a bit. It wasn’t my fault; and now:
"Whatever you ask of me I will give you, even half my kingdom"
Words said in haste, and repented at leisure; rash promises made in order to look good at the time, platitudes which although they seem to promise so much, almost always end up empty. These are the words which become a source of pain, discomfort, distress and in the case of John the Baptist, cause the almost senseless death of one who was even by Herod’s admission, a holy man.
It is a tragic story which Mark throws into his thrilling gospel tale, and is a monument to the corruptness of absolute power, and ease with which a vengeful and determined person can manipulate those who hold absolute power to achieve both the unthinkable and the unspeakable.
The problem as Herod discovered is that platitudes and empty promises can have serious consequences. And it is this lesson which I want to draw out of the waste of a prophet such as John the Baptist, through this barbarism there is something positive to be seen.
Herod shares with us today a tendency to rush into the empty commitment, the shallow promise. How often, I have been forced to reflect recently, when my children ask for me to help them with something, and I say “In a minute”, what I really mean is “get on with it, and I hope you’ll have forgotten you asked me in a little while”; how often that when I say to Fr Lewis “I’ll do that straight away”, I really mean “Wild horses won’t get me to do that this side of Christmas”. Remember how St Peter cried “I will never desert you Lord”, and we all know what happened to that promise of his…
We take a lot of store by promises: baptismal promises, confirmation promises, ordination promises even; St. Thomas Aquinas identified that the whole of society is based upon the honouring of promises and trust, for without the honouring of promises, the money supply dries up as those bits of paper in your purse or your wallet become useless without the promise to “pay the bearer the sum of …”, society fragments as one is unable to trust that one’s neighbour will not break your windows when you are at work, and family relationships cannot be sustained beyond the instant sexual gratification of a one night stand, for there can be no love without trust. Without the honouring of promises one is completely unable to contemplate any form of corporate life, and it is, I’m sure you’ll agree about as far from the Christian ethos as it is possible to get. He was a shrewd and perceptive man, that Thomas Aquinas.
Christ made us a number of promises that he clearly intends to keep: to be rebuilt after 3 days, to return to us again when the time is right, and for us to be “sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, (Ephesians 3:6). These are promises which we can trust, for we know through his Holy Gospel that Christ honoured all that he promised: it is an example that we should prefer far above the example of Herod. Ask yourself, which would you prefer? To be offered rashly half a kingdom (which was not his to give in the first place, for he was a mere puppet king of the Romans) or to realise a promise such as “I am with you always, to the end of the age”? (Matthew 28:20)
Now, the life of a Holy Man (even Fr Lewis) will probably not be depending on the next promise you make, but unless the promise you make tomorrow is made with conviction, you may very well find yourself in a similar difficult corner.