It seems like the Gospel text for this Sunday (Mark 6:14-29) is a parenthesis. At the very end of the text on the previous Sunday, the disciples had been sent out, and it was reported that they healed many. This next week, at the very beginning of the text which follows immediately after this one, the disciples are going to come back to Jesus and report what they had done. (And, after that, Jesus is going to take them away to a desolate place—and it will be a proper setting for the feeding of the 5,000.) And, in between those two Sundays, there is the record of John the Baptist’s beheading.
There are a lot of places where it might be appropriate to talk about how John the Baptist was beheaded. I actually like the literary choice to have it here.
Having the disciples being sent out here, instead of at the end of this gospel account, makes it possible for the amazing ending that occurs at Mark 16:8. The women will leave the empty tomb afraid, telling no one.
At the end of this account, the focus does not have to be on the disciples and them telling others. They were not the important ones throughout the account anyway. And John the Baptist certainly was not the important one as well.
In this account, the fear is real, the death is certainly real, and, of course, the fear of death is also a real thing. And this account has an answer to all those issues—Jesus.
Literarily, when the disciples are going out and telling others about Jesus, John the Baptist is getting his head chopped off because of a silly oath Herod made to a young girl. And I hesitate calling him a ‘king’ even though this title is given to him several times and he himself even says that he has a ‘kingdom’, of which he is willing to give half of it away.
There is also the interesting use of the term ‘immediately’ or ‘straightway’; it occurs twice within this account, and both times something happens immediately that is very bad.
The literary style of this text seems to say that not everything in this gospel account is good news. It is also a good reminder that the beginning of this account is described as just the beginning of the gospel. And, also, there are things we trust in that cannot help us too much—earthly ‘kings’ and our own sense of the ‘right’ timing. We need help from a source that is OUTSIDE OURSELVES.
As always, Jesus makes the right decisions at the right time. The world seems to be more out of control each day, but Jesus knows what is going on. His gospel certainly continues. And he makes the right promises, and he makes sure that they are kept.