Scripture - Mark 6:1-13
Mark 6:1-13 (New Revised Standard Version)
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
I remember the first time I disagreed with my parents. I’m not talking about the kinds of disagreements most adolescents and young adults have with their parents around what’s for dinner or how late you can stay out with your friends. This was a disagreement rooted in something deeper - a shift in worldview. I was in my junior year of college home on a short break. I had brought home school work since I had some problem sets to finish and a paper to write for my sociology class. When I had signed up for the class at the beginning of the semester, I really wasn’t interested in sociology at all - I was a math and physics girl -- give me facts and figures and proofs instead of this reading and writing stuff. I took it because it filled a graduation requirement. To my surprise, I was actually enjoying the course, and while I was home writing up my final paper for the class, I shared with my parents a bit about the book and other research my papers was based on - prepared to engage in conversation and dialogue about how interesting it was. I wasn’t prepared for the feedback I received. I remember being bewildered by their absolute dismissal - there wasn’t any real conversation, and I was so caught off guard that I couldn’t even ask where their ideas and statements were coming from. It made me realized how much I had changed and how much my experiences and learnings and conversations with others had put me in a different place than the one I grew up in. It was a bit disorienting for me - and I’m sure it was for them as well - as we had to renegotiate the changing assumptions and perceptions and differing value systems that are a part of growing up and differentiating from one’s family.
I also think about Martin Luther King Jr….a Newsweek article from early this year noted that in the years leading up to his assassination, he was very unpopular in the United States. A Gallup poll in 1966 found that almost two-thirds of Americans had an unfavorable opinion on him and only third had a positive impression -- and that unfavorable two thirds was an increase of 26 points from 1963. His popularity began to decrease after he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, particularly after he began to shift the conversation around civil rights in the south to segregation and poverty among black Americans in Chicago. When he took a stand against the Vietnam War in 1967, he started drawing even more criticism, especially from those in the black community. Finally, his tackling the larger issue of poverty in this country - the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968, calling for a march on Washington itself - was his final unpopular decision.
These moments are some of what came to mind for me when I read this passage about Jesus being back in his hometown of Nazareth, teaching in the local synagogue….it’s the tension of being in a different place than the rest of your community, of drawing criticism or critique from those who you had hoped would understand and know you, and wrestling with reality being ideologically and spiritually different than what was expected of you, particularly from those who know you - or think they know you - the best.
The people who came to hear Jesus speak were those with whom he had spent most of his life - they knew him as Jesus the carpenter, as Mary and Joseph’s boy, knew stories of what he was like as a child, perhaps they even had tables or benches that he had made. Presumably, word about what Jesus could do had made its way to their ears - casting out demons, healing lepers and paralytics those with all manner of diseases. The news about his wise teachings, too, had spread to them. So when he rolls into Nazareth with his disciples, he draws a crowd in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Initially, they are amazed and astounded at his words and by what he was able to do...but praise quickly turns to scorn. It was almost as if they still saw Jesus as the Jesus they had always known - not any kind of miracle worker or wise teacher, but just one of them. I can imagine them saying, How dare he think of himself as more than us, as better than us?” They didn’t understand the source of his wisdom and power.
Jesus, at their offense, perhaps gets a bit rankled himself, and responds with that famous proverb: Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown,...which goes on to say and among their own kin, and in their own house. Instead of pausing to lick his wounds or to high-tail it out of town with this less-than-stellar reception, Jesus forges ahead and offers deeds of power, except to find that nothing could be done, but for a few healings...and he is amazed at their unbelief. In rejecting Jesus, they are also rejecting the power of God that was at work in him - and so his inability to work miracles among his own community has less to do with him and more to do with the people who couldn’t see past the Jesus they knew and understood - the Jesus that seemed no different than them. Finally Jesus leaves, and goes to teach in neighboring villages.
And then all of a sudden in Mark’s Gospel we switch gears, and see Jesus sending out the twelve disciples two by two, giving them bizarre instructions for the journey - he tells them not to take a bag or bread or money or extra clothes - just a staff, sandals, and a tunic. He tells them to stay where they are welcome and shake the dust off their feet of the places they’re not. They went out on the road with “joyful urgency that life can be radically different” as the Message paraphrase puts it - healing the sick, exorcising demons, and proclaiming the kingdom as they went. A beautiful success story following a story of Jesus’ failure. We have to chalk this one up to the disciples - who really seemed clued in this time, after all the times in the gospels where they don’t get it, where Jesus rebukes them and corrects their mistakes, this time - they actually pull it off. Jesus takes off the training wheels a bit, sends them out and they make it happen!
So I have to wonder if Jesus taking his disciples to his hometown of Nazareth wasn’t a bit of hands-on modeling for his followers of what to do when resistance comes...what to do when they receive a less-than-warm reception...how to persist in the work Jesus set out before them. Watching Jesus handle rejection and offense among the people who knew him the best prepared the disciples for what they might face among the towns and villages where they would be preaching and healing.
Because the truth of the matter is, Jesus and his disciples were about this radically different way of life, this new message of God’s Kingdom being at hand, and it wasn’t exactly a popular idea among many people during his time - especially those who were good, observant Jews, those who connected with the Temple or who were religious scholars or who had an in with the Roman government or those who wanted to keep their heads down and not rock the boat, those who wanted to keep things the way that they were for fear of what those in power might do. This life of repentance, of lifting up the lowly and shattering the proud, of lavish grace and inclusion of the outcast and forgotten, of restoration for the broken and bloodied, of redemption for the sinners and tax collectors - it broke all the conventions of his time and threatened the very fabric of the society in which Jesus and his disciples lived.
And it remains a dangerous way of life. As followers of Jesus we should be finding ourselves a bit out of sync with the world. There will be times when people - sometimes people we love and care about - will look at us like we’re crazy when we talk about having compassion on the poor and treating them like human beings, or when we forgive the friend who betrayed us, or when we take time for the person no one gives the time of day to, or when we give generously not out of our extra, but sacrificially so that another person’s needs can be met. Christians operate off of a different script, seeing the world differently, taking cues from Jesus and how he lived and operated in the world...and Jesus continually invites us to pattern our lives and our hearts after his own. And as we are sent out into the world each week, each day, we find a world where we have to negotiate alternative messages to this life of love and peace - sometimes dealing with flat out rejection of the love that we’ve found in God, sometimes dealing with openness and excitement - and everything in-between.
In all of this, Jesus shows us how to persist in the work he gives us the power and authority to do - to heal, to attack the demons that plague our society and the world that God loves, and to share the good news….and shows us how to shake the dust from our feet and continue on when faced with opposition. For if we are following his lead, the resistance we face has more to do with where others are on the journey - their own worldview, their own assumptions about God and Jesus and faith - and less about who God really is and how Jesus lives and breathes in us. We are not held responsible for their response - but only for our own faithfulness as we are sent out in Christ’s name.
To close, I want to reread the second portion of the scripture passage from Eugene Peterson’s The Message - because as people who have found life in Christ, and as people who go back to our homes or workplaces trying to be faithful signs of God’s love with all the challenges that brings, I believe the way he frames this passage will help remind us of our calling as a people who are to build God’s kingdom in this world.
7-8 Jesus called the Twelve to him -- perhaps it should read “Jesus calls us to him”, and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority and power to deal with the evil opposition. He sent them off with these instructions:
8-9 “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple.
10 “And no luxury inns. Get a modest place and be content there until you leave.
11 “If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.”
12-13 Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits.
Go forth this day to share this truth with the world. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and three year old son, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.