Sermon on Mark 6:1-13 for July 8, 2012, Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, 14th Ordinary, Year B
Mark 6: 1-13
He left that place and came to his hometown, 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 offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, 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.
This is a fascinating glimpse into the life of Jesus, his family, and the early days of his ministry – but it is so much more. This small text has huge implications that are so powerfully needed today. Let’s look at the text together.
First, here is the big picture: Jesus has already been seen in Mark’s gospel to have power from God to heal (remember the hemorrhaging woman from last week), to raise back to life a person who had died (the daughter of the synagogue leader), and he has power over the demonic realm – the world of evil.
He comes back to his village-of-origin, teaches in the synagogue, finds local skepticism, gets frustrated, and leaves them. He embarks on a traveling ministry, then sends out his disciples in pairs on a mission of healing and exorcism, giving them specific instructions about how to conduct themselves and what to do. The conclusion is given in the final statement:
“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.”
So, it starts well, goes badly, but ends well – but why tell us? Of all of the things we wish we knew about Jesus but were never told, why did Mark spend so much precious papyrus space on these almost trivial details? Let’s look at them.
Local Boy Makes Good
Jesus returns home. No doubt, before he arrived, news about him had spread back to his home village, tiny, little Nazareth, where nothing much new ever happens. Well now, something new has happened. It is like a local kid from Gulf Shores making the olympics. Suddenly he’s the talk of the town.
At first it seems that they are proud of their famous local boy. When he taught in their synagogue Mark tells us:
“many who heard him were astounded.”
And yet, quickly, their thoughts turned dark. Why? It looks to me like petty jealousy. “Maybe now that he’s getting famous he thinks he’s better than us?”
“They said, “Where did this man get all this?”
The tragically odd thing is that they recognize some kind of power at work in Jesus, noticing his extraordinary wisdom and healing powers”
“What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!”
The Birthers’ Suspicions
But that’s not enough for them. They know where he comes from. They know his mother. She’s the one who got herself pregnant before marriage. They say:
“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.”
Notice they didn’t mention Joseph? They call Jesus, “Mary’s son,” as if to leave open a question. These people, shall we call them the “birthers”? in Nazareth are after a missing birth-certificate. Their heads are full of dark suspicions about whose name is sitting there in the box labeled “father.”
So it’s clear that even after the evidence of their own eyes and ears they are not prepared to believe that Jesus could possibly be the one to bring the kingdom of God that they have been longing for. How could this local, blue-collar, illegitimate kid grow up to be the one to bring in the time of God’s shalom, wholeness, well-being?
Not Him, right?
How could local boy Jesus be the one to bring in the time when the nation, or, as the prophets would picture it, “daughter Zion” would be
healed of her injuries?
How could “Mary’s son” confront the fearsome evil powers that held the people in bondage to foreign oppressors? Doesn’t his inauspicious background prove that he is not The One?
Just the opposite; Jesus quotes a proverb that shows that he is in exactly the same position that prophets of the past found themselves in: rejected by their own people.
“Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, 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.”
Jesus is frustrated. He is able to do much less than he intended.
Learning God from Jesus
We need to pause right here to learn something absolutely crucial: We Christians believe that we know God by knowing Jesus. We believe that Jesus shows us what God is like – what he thinks is important, who he thinks is worth his time, what is wrong and how to fix it. Basic fact #1 in Christian theology is that God is most clearly, most fully made know to us in and through the life and ministry of Jesus.
Well, if that is true, what does this part of the story tell us about God? It tells us that God’s agenda is to bring healing and restoration to us. That was Jesus’ goal. That’s what he wanted to do there in Nazareth.
But this also tells us that he may be resisted. He does not force himself on unwilling people. As tragic as it is, people can stay sick instead of being healed of the damage that evil always does.
Nevertheless, the take-away point is that God wills our healing and restoration to shalom. That is what he wants for every one of us.
Into the Margins with the Message
Let’s continue with the story. So Jesus departs with his newly constituted family – people who believe that God is working through him. And he goes out to where the suffering people are, out into the marginalized countryside villages, and proclaims his message.
Soon, he implements his plan to expand his ministry by sending out the ones whom he has trained, his original disciples.
“He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.”
If Jesus was resisted, if his ministry was less than 100% successful in his home village, the disciples should expect resistance to their ministry as well. Jesus gives them detailed instructions about how to conduct their mission, and what to do when it fails.
“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.”
Why the odd details?
Why are we told about these details. First for an old reason that is interesting, but doesn’t exist anymore, and then for a reason that will never become irrelevant.
First, the disciples were supposed to be dependent, not independent of the people they ministered to. They were not to bring their own means of support and stand aloof from the poor villagers they went to; rather they were to be one of them – eating from their dinner tables.
In this way, they were to be completely different from the Cynic philosophers who were so popular in that world at that time. Although there were some surface similarities – that they traveled and taught and shunned normal comforts, nevertheless, the Cynics kept a full bag of provisions so that they were independent of the people they tried to convince. The disciples, by contrast, were utterly dependent upon, not superior to the people they served.
In this way the disciples were like Jesus himself, who came to humanity as one of us. Just as Jesus divested himself of all his divine prerogatives when he took on our human flesh, so too the disciples mode of ministry had to be “incarnational.”
In Jesus’ kingdom, nobody outranks anybody else. We are all equally members of God’s family, all equally loved by God. God wills the healing and restoration of all of us on this planet whom he has made in his image. None are second rate, or second class.
So the first thing we learned from the mission of the twelve is the way they were among the people as equals, especially to be unlike the Cynic philosophers.
The Mission may Fail
The need to make that distinction may no longer be relevant, but the second fact that this mission shows us is still true: the disciple’s mission may fail.
Just like Jesus’ own mission was frustrated in Nazareth, so too, disciples who continue his work should not expect complete success. There will be resistance. There will be rejection. Expect to fail sometimes. Just because you are doing exactly what God wants you to do, do not expect it to be easy.
Mark’s story of Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth is very short. Luke goes into more detail. We know from him that the people hated it when Jesus spoke of God’s openness to foreigners. That’s just an example. There are all kinds of reasons not to like Jesus’ message.
Reasons to Reject Jesus
In a world of vengeance, who wants to hear Jesus’ call to turn the other cheek?
In a world in which no one tells me what to do, who wants to hear about going the second mile?
In a world of selfishness and apathy, who wants to hear that our obligations to our neighbors includes everyone whom we see lying on the side of the road in pain?
In a world in which people are treated as commodities, who wants to be told not to treat each other as objects to lust after or as targets of angry name-calling derision?
In a world where lawsuits have become the new American dream, who wants the message of forgiving 70 X 7?
In a world of materialism and greed, who wants to hear about giving your coat to someone who needs only a shirt?
There are many reasons to reject Jesus’ message. And so the disciples who carry that message into the world should expect resistance and rejection.
The Wrong Consensus Belief
The status quo may be, and often has been, completely wrong, and the people who said so, were often, just like Jesus, rejected.
The early abolitionists were the despised minority, even though slavery was and is evil.
The first ones to champion the civil rights movement were persecuted, some even killed for their work for justice and freedom.
Every culture I have been exposed to has a huge number of people who are materialistic, patriarchal, misogynist, xenophobic, nationalistic and homophobic. There are no new ideas. And these sick ways of thinking are like poison, harming everyone they contact.
Change is Required
This is why the message of the disciples had to be the same as the message of Jesus:
“So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.”
“Repent” literally means to think differently, and therefore to behave differently. There are huge areas of ugly, destructive and self-destructive thoughts that people take for granted as the truth, that are killing us, but we cling to them anyway.
Self-deception and the psychological defense mechanism of denial is probably the most tragically common human characteristic we have. Like the myopic, smug, pretentious and foolish people of Nazareth, many of us would rather stay sick than admit that we could be sick, or that someone like Jesus could be the means of our shalom. But he is.
God’s Will and God’s Call
Listen, God wills our healing from all of the destructive effects of evil. He wishes our release from the dark powers that possess our cultures and our minds. He comes offering a way out, offering the kingdom of God. Jesus shows us this God at work. And he is still at work today.
The first call of this text is to all of us, to actively repent of all the ways we have been seduced by evil and to offer ourselves to God for his healing.
The second call is to be an active part of his continuing mission. This is the call to be one of the sent-ones who go two by two to the margins to offer God’s message of shalom and healing to everybody. We may not be successful, we may face some rejection. There are those who would rather cling to their smugness than repent and be healed, but there will also be those who respond.
God has you where you are to be a part of his mission of shalom; in your family, in your neighborhood, in your (our) church and denomination, and in our nation and world. We have been sent out by the same one who sent the first twelve, to be a part of bringing God’s justice, compassion, inclusion and healing love to a hurting world!