Jesus enjoined them, “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees
and the leaven of Herod. …
Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened?…
Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? Do you still not understand?”
Harsh words of Jesus to his disciples. They occur, not early in Mark’s Gospel, but as they prepare to go up to Jerusalem, after many miracles Jesus has done and many times he has taught. Yet they do not understand.
Is this still true for his disciples today? Mark’s Gospel reminds us how much, like them, we don’t know.
How should we guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod? I suppose that means the corruption that can take place in religion and in politics. We live in an imperfect world.
If Mark is writing in Rome –and I think he is– he would have to be careful about criticizing the government, especially in the wake of Nero’s persecution. Mark writes more of the scribes and pharisees as opposed to Jesus. He speaks less about Herod; he has to be discreet.
So every time I hear about Herod and the Herodians in Mark’s Gospel I hear him talking about Nero and Rome’s rulers. His description of John the Baptist’s death and the absurd circumstances that brought it on– Herodias’ vindictiveness, Herod’s care for his reputation, the cowardly compliance of his court– are not limited to that event from the time of Jesus. Mark is alluding to Nero’s cruel attack on the Christians of Rome who, like John, were innocent.
When he tells the story of the passion of Jesus Mark is also telling the Christians of Rome their story. Jesus was there with them. Jesus is there with them.