Year B, Seventh after Pentecost, Lectionary reading for July 11, 2021: Mark 6:14-29

The story of John the Baptist’s death should break your heart. King Herod had a chance to do the right thing. He knew John was a righteous, holy man. He knew killing him was wrong. But, under pressure from the people around him, he did it anyway.

Ground penetrating radar found the remains of 751 children on the grounds of the Marieval Residential school, just a little to the east of where I live. I doubt very much that all the people who worked there were genuinely evil. It only takes one strong, persuasive leader to convince others that they have no personal responsibility for what happened at the school. Good people have done terrible things because someone told them to and they didn’t have the courage to disagree. What is the difference between beheading John the Baptist and marching Jews into the gas chambers? What is the difference between the gas chambers and the electric chairs that were used to ‘discipline’ students in residential schools? Over and over through history, ordinary people participated in horrific actions because someone told them to.

Would you?

It’s easy to say “of course not!” It’s easy to believe we are better than those people; more moral, more righteous, more courageous. This story reminds us that if even a king, the most powerful person in a community, can be swayed from what he knows is right, then we all must guard against slipping under the influence of evil.

Reuben doesn’t have a bike. All his friends have bikes, and he really, really wants one. But his family doesn’t have enough money for groceries, so how could they ever afford a bike? Then one day, Reuben picks up a $1 bill (remember those?) that fell out of a woman’s purse, and can’t wait to spend it on a treat. But that night at home, he realizes it isn’t $1, but $100. That’s enough for a new bike.

Reuben faces a tough dilemma for any kid. Use the money to buy a bike? Or find the lady in the blue coat that dropped it at the store? Reuben wants a bike so much, he even visits the bike store and sits on one just like Sergio’s, but silver.

While there isn’t anyone in this book telling Reuben to do the wrong thing, the pressure of seeing all his friends riding along the streets while he has to run serves the same purpose. He wants to fit in. He wants to have what his friends have. He doesn’t want his friends to know how poor his family is. The $100 would solve all those problems, but would it be the right thing to do?

Questions to ask before you read:

  • What is something you really, really wanted, but couldn’t have?
  • Have you ever found something really valuable? What did you do with it?
  • What would you do if you found $100?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Do you think Reuben made the right choice? Why?
  • What would have happened if Reuben didn’t know who had dropped the money?
  • Do you think Reuben should get a reward for doing the right thing?

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