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Home and Away

Fifth Sunday after Trinity Mark 6 1-13

Jesus left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. 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! 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 offence at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 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.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Home and Away

As Jesus travelled from Capernaum up into the hill country above the Sea of Galilee, he was heading home. He had just made a significant impact on people down at the lake shore, healing a woman who had reached out and touched his cloak him in a crowd, and bringing Jairus’ daughter back to life. Now it was time to head back home, possibly to taste some of his Mother’s cooking! It was time to introduce the Kingdom of God in his home territory.

Mark gives us two stories in this reading, and it might seem at first that they are not related to each other. First we have the story of Jesus returning to Nazareth and meeting with some resistance. Jesus should have had a home advantage, but he didn’t. Things start out well, but as soon as he begins teaching in the synagogue, people are amazed, and they seem to think this local boy has got a bit too big for his boots.

There is even a hint of scandal as the people of Nazareth question his authority. They ask, “Isn’t this Mary’s son?” instead of, “Isn’t this Mary and Joseph’s son?” While we might see this as a true representation of the virgin birth, but in that time it was just short of an insult to ignore naming Joseph as the head of the household. It hints at the possibility that Jesus was an illegitimate child, bringing shame to his whole community.

Shame and honour formed the foundation of social interaction in Nazareth. If someone gained honour in the community that meant someone else had to lose. Keeping the balance between shame and honour was important. Here was Jesus, claiming the honour of a prophet for himself. This would upset the whole hierarchy of social standing. It would mean that someone, probably the synagogue leaders, would have to lose honour. This young upstart needed to be put in his place, and reminded that they knew who he was before he was famous, he just a carpenter nothing more.

Jesus has been busy amazing people in Capernaum, across the Sea of Galilee, and even in the middle of the lake, but now it is his turn to be amazed. What was it that had Jesus shaking his head? It was the lack of faith he saw among those from his home town, friends and family. This lack of faith highlights one of the more problematic verses in this passage: Jesus, the Son of God, is rendered powerless. Mark writes, “And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.”

Biblical scholars have wrestled with this sentence, and theologians have argued about it. Matthew’s version gives a different slant on it. Matthew writes: Jesus “did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith” (Matt 13:58), making it sound more like Jesus chose not to perform many miracles.

But the question may not be about whether Jesus chose to do miracles or was prevented from doing them. Maybe the question is, does our lack of faith affect the way God works? Do we really hinder the work of God because we lack faith? (There is a whole sermon here about God’s omnipotence and His grace that is not dependent on anything we are or do. But that is for another day) Back to the text for today. What happened in Nazareth? Jesus laid his hands on a few sick people and they were healed. Perhaps they were the few who did seek him out in faith, just as Jairus had on behalf of his dying daughter, and the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. Mark is perhaps hinting that this might be the key. Jesus responds when ask for his mercy. He can only transform our lives to the extent that we allow him to. Jesus’ ability to do great things in Nazareth was only limited by the fact that nobody bothered to ask, except for a few, and they were healed.

(Of course in other places in our gospels Jesus heals without being asked, like the ten lepers, but mostly he responds to people asking for mercy or for healing directly.)

What if Mark is simply inviting us to contemplate the possibility that each one of us has a role to play in making God’s will and work known the world? If that is true we need to ask another question. How might I be preventing him from doing the work he wants to perform in me?
I invite you to let your hands rest in your lap in an open posture, releasing to God the things that keep you from experiencing his power:
A hurt or regret you cannot let go, or a grudge you are holding onto.
Some anger that continues to burn in you, or a problem that will not go away.
Or maybe there is something you need to receive from God into your open hands.
A commitment God is calling you toward that you don’t want to acknowledge, a ministry opportunity you are afraid to accept or that you think is too difficult for you.

This isn’t only about accepting God’s grace to save us and inviting Jesus into our hearts. It’s about our willingness to be true disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It’s about trusting God enough to ask him to change us, to begin with us, and mean it.

The disciples who followed Jesus to Nazareth didn’t abandon him when the town rejected his message. They were watching closely to see what he would do. As Jesus kept on with his ministry of preaching good news and healing the sick, casting out unclean spirits and giving hope to the poor, the disciples were learning what it means to be a true follower of Christ. And that brings us to the second part of the reading.

In today’s passage from Mark, Jesus gives some very specific directions to his disciples as He prepares to send them out on their first ministry mission without Him. He tells them what to take, and what not to take with them on their journey. It’s clear that Jesus wants his disciples to go out in his name, completely depending on God to provide for their needs through the hospitality of others. Jesus knows that they will probably face rejection in at least some of the towns they will visit.

They saw the way he left Nazareth and went into the nearby villages to keep preaching and healing. Now he tells them to shake the dust off their feet as they leave any place that does not receive them or their message. If you can’t win at home, maybe it’s time go away and he prepares them as they are going to be challenged and face rejection. There is an example in Acts. In chapter 8 we read “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” Did you notice that Jesus had told them back in Acts Chapter 1:8 that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Eight chapters later, persecution sends them from Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria. It’s only a few more chapters before the ends of the earth come into the story. Sometimes, rejection is the springboard for ministry.
We know that they went and that their mission and ministry was successful. Possibly they ran into some opposition and we know from the rest of the story that Jesus would face growing resistance from those who felt threatened by his message. But that did not stop Jesus from fulfilling his mission. He saw it through, from dying on the cross, from rising on the third day, to defeating death and sin once and for all.

Sometimes rejection is the springboard for ministry. Sometimes it is the fear of rejection that prevents us from experiencing God’s power at work in our lives. When we shrink back from stepping out in faith, we not only short-change ourselves, and Christ can do no deed of power in us, but we become what John Wesley describes as “almost Christian, living out the form of a godly life without experiencing its power.”

Following Jesus means putting everything on the line. We may find that some people do not want to hear the message of hope, but that doesn’t mean we should stop sharing it. There are others who will respond to the good news that God loves them. When we put our full faith in Christ, living in the assurance that he will act, he can and will change our brokenness into fruitfulness. Amen.

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