Fascinating stories headline today’s readings. We begin with the middle section of the story of Joseph from Genesis, picking up at the point where Joseph has become rich and powerful in Egypt. He receives the brothers who betrayed him with equanimity and offers them gifts and riches to return to Canaan and bring their father, Jacob, to him in Egypt. Forgiveness in the face of the worst sort of treachery is the powerful moral presented to us. It is a dramatic story, with Jacob nearly dying from the shock of finding out his son is alive, and proclaiming, "It is enough… I will go and see him before I die." The reunion with a loved one, believed lost or dead, makes for a moving human drama.
While the Gospel of Mark begins with one introductory sentence about Jesus’ miraculous ministry in Galilee, before taking a major digression into the highly operatic story of Herod Antipas and the beheading of John the Baptist. This is the story of Richard Strauss’s powerful opera "Salome", although that title heroine is not named in this version (nor in Matthew, which recounts the same tale to explain John’s demise; we only know her name from Josephus’s history). It’s more wonderful story-telling than edifying guidepost, and its inconsistency with the Jesus stories which surround it makes the modern reader wonder what ancient editor decided to drop this tale into the middle of the gospel narrative. The vindictiveness of Herodias is the antithesis of Joseph’s generosity and love of his brothers. Herod has reason to fear that Jesus is the reincarnation of John. His guilt over the lurid death of the righteous man is one that resonates through Christian literature for centuries to come.