Why can’t we all just get along?


Scripture: Mark 6: 14-29 Nigel Bunce

Why can’t we all just get along?

“Why can’t we all just get along?”  It’s a rhetorical question. Sometimes, we have to stand up against what is wrong.  In today’s Gospel story, John the Baptist has made himself unpopular with the powers that be. He said that the marriage of King Herod to his wife was unlawful. A bit of context.  Why was it “unlawful”?

Herod had previously married the daughter an Arabian king whose land bordered on Israel. Herod divorced her to marry Herodias. However, Herodias was the daughter of his half-brother. That made her Herod’s sister-in-law and also his niece.

Herodias’ revenge

No wonder that John criticized them. He couldn’t just let it go for the sake of getting along. So, Herodias carried a grudge against John. She got her revenge when her daughter danced seductively for Herod at his birthday party. In effect, the girl was trying to seduce Uncle Herod, her step-father.

And Herod, dirty old man that he was, was so turned on that he promised the girl anything she wanted. Herodias seized her chance. She persuaded her daughter to ask for John’s head on a plate. And Herod felt obliged to agree.

Mark tells us that Herod had a soft spot for John. Even though John was a prisoner, Herod liked to talk to him. But Herod had made his promise and Herodias made him keep it.

A parallel with Jesus’ arrest and execution

Like Herod with John the Baptist, Pilate didn’t want to sentence Jesus to death. But Pilate had promised to pardon anyone the crowd asked for. The crowd forced his hand to release Barabbas and execute Jesus. Just as Horodias forced the hand of Herod to execute John the Baptist.

Of course, Herod didn’t have to let Herodias have her way. He could have said no. But he had made a promise. To have said, “You can’t have that” would have meant loss of face. Looking weak. So Herod went through with an action he knew to be wrong. Pilate made a similar choice.

Loss of face always hurts

The more powerful the person, the more difficult it is to back-track or to say sorry. Successive Popes have felt unable to apologize to Canada’s Indigenous peoples for the abuses at Catholic-run residential schools.

For the same reason, Prime Minister Trudeau could not acknowledge his ethical mistakes over the SNC-Lavalin controversy. I see a parallel between Herod and John the Baptist with P.M. Trudeau and Jody Wilson-Raybould. The person who spoke truth to power paid a price for speaking out.

“Why can’t we all just get along?” or “to decide for the good or evil side”

I chose the hymn “Once to every man and nation” deliberately to go with this Gospel passage. The hymn reminds us that sometimes we must stand up for the things we believe in. As the hymn puts it, “to decide for the good or evil side.” It’s the opposite of “Why can’t we all just get along?”

John the Baptist felt that he had to speak out about Herod’s and Herodias’ immoral marriage. And John lost his head because of what he said. I’m sure every one of us has been in the position when we failed to speak up when we saw or heard something wrong. The moment to speak didn’t seem right.

In the words of the hymn, “Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside.” Maybe, we console ourselves, if the situation happened again, that next time we would make our move. But, the reality is that the choice has gone by for ever.

A dilemma

When its it right to choose between the good or evil side? When do we say instead, “Let’s all just get along?” I have thought about this a lot in the context of the bitter quarrels that have divided religious people from the beginning right down to today.  The dilemma is real. 

The expression “Why can’t we all just get along?” seems to demand tolerance. But, I don’t think that “tolerate” is the right word. Most thesaurus synonyms for “tolerate” have the sense “to put up with”. Definitely not to embrace.

Tolerance is rather negative. I may have to tolerate the forest of weeds in my neighbour’s garden, but that doesn’t mean that I think that they are a good idea. I have to put up with them. But what about “religious tolerance”? Does God want me merely to tolerate – put up with – people whose theology differs from mine?

Tolerance — or respect?

In most examples of differences of religious doctrine, the word that I should be looking for is “respect”. Not mere “tolerance”. The word “respect” (which I also equate with “love” in the New Testament sense) acknowledges that I cannot know the mind of God. Therefore, I can never be sure that my view is the right one.

But, “Why can’t we all just get along?” cannot mean anything goes. John the Baptist felt that he could not stand aside when Herod and Herodias behaved immorally. In the words of the hymn “Once to every man and nation” he had to decide. Even though there would be a price.

Likewise, in our time, hateful speech about gays and lesbians – that they will burn in hell – demands a response. We can’t just use it as an example of “Why can’t we all just get along?” We must respect people whatever their sexual orientation. Simply put, because everyone is part of God’s diverse and wonderful Creation. 

To sum up

The difficulty for all of us, it seems to me, is to know when it is proper to respect the other person’s position (“Why can’t we all just get along?”) and when it is necessary to speak out (“Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide”).

In the end, all we can do is to pray, and to hope that we will get it right in God’s eyes, despite our uncertainties.