READINGS: 2 Sam 5:1-5, 9-10 ~ 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10 ~ Mark 6:1-13
Up till now, Mark has recounted the story of our Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan by his cousin. We have read about his trip down to the Galilea and his calling of Peter, James, John and the rest. We recall their work in the Galilean countryside by that beautiful lake and the miraculous work and teachings of our Lord as He goes about revealing his identity to those who had the eyes to see and the heart to embrace Him as their saviour. He showed preferential treatment to women, to those who were marginalized because of illness both mental and physical illness. He acted beyond social norms. He acted selflessly on behalf of others.
And many whom he taught and healed came to believe he was the Son of God, divinely inspired. But it was to those who were closest to him, those who were the most familiar with him, who express the gravest of doubts regarding his identity.
I want to talk about our Lord’s hometown. We all know it to be the big metropolis of Nazareth. In reality we know that the town of Nazareth probably had about 600 souls living in it about the time our Lord called that place home. When he grew up, his family would have been well known in the community. His home was barely a rubble, his parents ordinary in every way. The carpenter’s son had probably run the streets with the other children of his age and in many respects, he must have appeared much the same as his cohort. The synagogue was the hub His community and he would have joined hundreds of people each year as they would have journeyed to Jerusalem during the Passover, to make their yearly sacrifices to God for the atonement of their sins. A few amongst them might have notice his aptitude for the reading and interpreting the scriptures – a gifted child, a rabbi in the making perhaps. Though according to tradition, he was destined to follow in the steps of his father- the carpenter. Little did they know…
You can imagine what it must have been like when the neighbours get word through the gossip mills, that Jesus of Nazareth, little Jesus, Mary’s boy is claiming to be the divinely inspired to teach, heal and preach in the name of Yahweh. They find it astonishing that one whose origins they know, should be able to do such astonishing things. People needed to put him the box where he belongs. Many of you here today can attest to the damage that can be done to someone when we insist on putting them into the boxes of our expectations; boxes which only serve to limit potential and kill creativity.
The town was of no account and, if the truth be told, it would be better if no one noticed it all. If he were to be noticed, then the town would have attention brought down upon it. We all know what they do to people who claim to be the Messiah! Safety first. Distance yourself from him, discredit his abilities, save yourself from the unwanted attention of the Romans. Do not upset the Sanhedrin. Let’s keep our little town out of the headlines.
Except there was this one piece of their scripture that weighed heavily on their minds; the piece of scripture from the book of the prophet Isaiah, which all of us recall, right. Isaiah reminds us that a wandering Nazarean shall lead them. A young boy will shepherd the people.
The twelve enter the town, on foot, searching to find a safe place to rest and refresh. We assume they stayed at Mary and Joseph’s family compound. In time, they go to the synagogue, where they assume they will be received with open arms. The joyous return of the native son is not to be. And because of their lack of faith He can do nothing but heal a few people.
As we hit the dog days of summer, we see our Lord’s ministry take a negative turn and we use this reading from Mark’s gospel to grapple with what it means to be a disciple of our Lord and how we are to behave when we experience the rejection of the message we bear as followers of his in this day and age.
Most of us have experienced a rap at our door usually on a Saturday morning , after a late night of celebrating, to discover a member of a religious sect standing in all their glory, for the purpose of converting us. Generally speaking, their God is a God who attempts to scare us into to believing in their particular take on the gospel. But frightening words of oppression in my estimation are not of the gospel. It is hard to accept the notion that their take on the gospel is the only way by which I can avoid eternal damnation when the end times arrive and I am not ready.
I personally have a policy of loving them into leaving, by telling them I am a member of the community of Christians already. I am always glad to receive and read the materials they leave behind and have used their literature as food for thought as I prepared a sermon. I have always tried to embrace other religious traditions and I have great respect for those who go door to door trying to reach out to those who for the most part are not interested in what it is they have to say. High praise to those who opt to use door-to-door evangelism as their main means of bringing people to faith in Jesus Christ.
I am not sure I could receive such an extreme level of animosity or rejection without coming apart at the seams. For most of us here, I think that must be the case as well.
It must have been a test of our Lord’s metal to be rejected by those whom he loved and for the most part who loved him but did not believe in who he was and what he was doing.
In this day and age where we think that size matters and where evangelism is associated with growing the numbers of our community, we fall prey to engaging people in ways which there is little or no pay‑off. Even Jesus in his day knew that his own home town would provide little support for his growing movement and he knew when to shake the dust off his sandals and move on to a place where his message would be welcomed.
It seems to me that we must strike the balance between healing and proclamation; between doing the word and speaking the word. That is, we can’t be so heavenly-minded we are no earthly good. We have been inspired by people who walk the talk. Because after all, talk is cheap when it is not backed up with actions. This story of Nazareth is a lesson in our need to integrate works and deeds. Words alone are never enough
Indeed, God talk outside the church makes most of us anxious. And telling our story with words is part of the claim Christ lays on his disciples; not for the purpose of growing our numbers or to get people on our side.
There are no polished words, no quoting theologians, no master’s degree. No fancy programs will do the trick. We must learn to trust in our own ways of communicating. We are called to speak the truth in love, from the heart, and most certainly we shall be wary. We most certainly will experience rejection, the same sort of rejection our Lord experiences in his own home town. And our Lord struggles as we will struggle.
If you believe that you are a disciple of our Lord, you will know by now that it is difficult to travel the path that Jesus would have you travel. Indeed, some of you this morning may be able to recall stories of your own rejection, possibly even at the hands of some whom you love and whose opinion you value and respect. It is devastating. But we are called to persevere.
The Lord has commissioned us to each walk our own path of discipleship as difficult as that might be. We have been directed to travel lightly, to depend on the hospitality of strangers, speaking God’s word with respect and kindness.