A Reflection on Mark 6
He 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.
Today’s scripture is one that, at least to me, feels very real, one that is relatively easy to imagine, to picture in your mind. One with a lot of tangible moments to hold on to.
Let’s start with Jesus’ return to his hometown of Nazareth. In the chapter just before this one, Jesus was preaching to crowds, casting out demons, calming storms, healing people who touched his robe, and people were asking “who is this that does these things?” And they started following him.
But then, Jesus goes home.
Who among us has not had that awkward moment in a gathering of family, whether biological, chosen, or church family, where we are trying to express something important that we have discovered or something we deeply feel needs to be shared, only to be giggled at or dismissed once we have shared?
“Oh that’s just Shannon, she’s always going on about that stuff.”
“Where did that come from?”
“Yeah sure, you seem all deep, but we all know what you’re really like! You’re the one who always cheats at cards!”
“Wow, after all that schooling, with your fancy language, it’s like you barely speak the same language as us anymore.”
“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?”
These hometown folks aren’t asking, in wonder, “who is this?” in the same way the witnesses to his previous deeds did, instead they are asking “who does this guy think he is?”
Sometimes when we go through changes in life – whether those changes were chosen or not – the changes are actually hardest for the people closest to us to accept. They’ve known us so long as the child or adult who is a certain way, that when we change, they don’t always see it. And if they do see it, they even may view it as a betrayal, obstinance, or dismiss it as rebelliousness.
I would imagine many of your have been on both sides of this story, feeling sometimes like Jesus, like your family just don’t get you, or that it’s not worth bothering to even share your thoughts because the people who know you are not going to take you seriously. But I also know that I’ve been on the other side of this – I’ve been the family member that giggles about someone’s supposedly deep idea. I’ve made assumptions about people I know well, not realizing they may have changed. I’ve not bothered to listen to someone because “everything” they said in the past was not worth listening to.
So in many ways, I empathize with the folks in Jesus’ home town. It isn’t easy to listen to someone you think you know say surprising things.
Perhaps you have experienced that too? I can think of times where even in this community, people have brought new ideas that are dismissed because “we tried that in the 1970’s and it didn’t work” or doubted the authority of someone new or someone young – “since when did you become so knowledgable on this subject?”
Which is why I’m so glad to see that we have allowed this past year to help us see with new eyes, and open ourselves to new ideas, whether it is as simple as adding a webcam to the sanctuary to share services live with people far away, or seriously entertaining big dreams of community living or other creative paths forward.
What happened when Jesus’ home town didn’t want to believe in him? They missed out. The scripture tells us “he could do no deed of power there” and he only healed a few sick people. The scripture tells us this is always what happens to prophets in their home town, but I’d like to think it isn’t an inevitable conclusion, that the hearers had a choice, that we have a choice. In fact, I would venture to say that God is luring us to that other choice, to listen to the crazy ones, to take them seriously, because the crazy ones are the ones who change things, usually for the better.
I love that this story is paired with the next one, about how Jesus moves on after his hometown fails to get on board with his mission. He moves on and goes to other villages teaching, and he sends the disciples out, two by two. The disciples are told to keep things simple, to take no more than the clothes on their back and a staff. No bag, no lunch, no money. It is presumed that, unlike Jesus’ home town, there are plenty of people waiting to welcome the stranger, to listen to good news, to be given hope.
From this I am reminded that discipleship does not have to be fancy or elaborate, it doesn’t require a special set of tools, only a willing heart, and some trust in the goodness of the world. It doesn’t presume that all will be welcoming, and it subtly reminds us not to get discouraged by those who aren’t open to a hopeful message, simply shake it off and move on to the next opportunity to connect.
We are told the disciples proclaimed “that all should repent”. And while this word “repent” can sometimes feel troublesome, and is often used these days to describe the process of disclosing what we have done wrong and asking for forgiveness, the word literally meant to stop and change direction – to turn 180 degrees. It is describing the process of discovering a different way of being that is a change of course from where we were headed before.
Repentance can sound a bit scary. What would you like to turn away from or turn towards in your own life? What should our congregation or larger church turn away from or turn towards? These are questions that are before us every day. And, if someone were to knock on our door, and show us a different way, how receptive would we be?
I feel sometimes like the world is knocking on my door:
The racoon that stared at me from my patio door the other night, looking for water as a respite from the heat, water I’d set out every day for the past several days, but hadn’t set out that night.
The heat itself, pounding at my door, reminding me of the realities of climate change, and that this past week is likely to become the norm, not the exception.
Worthy organizations in need of donations and volunteer time.
All knocking and asking me to turn a different way, to change course and examine what I’m doing to contribute to climate change. To change course and examine how I am helping the needy of my community. To change course and offer water to a thirsty world on fire.
So while your first inclination may be to think ill of Jesus’ home town for not accepting him, I would encourage you to examine your own heart of hospitality and listening when it comes to the people you know best and longest.
And while your first inclination may be to put yourself in the sandals of the disciples going out to share, I’d encourage you to think about putting yourself in the shoes of the people answering the door when the disciples knock – will you welcome them in? What will you turn away from? What will you turn towards?