The Rev. Melanie McCarley
Just because you’ve returned from the big city and been a success, don’t expect your Aunt to think you are a prophet. She knew you when you were a kid. This is what happens to Jesus in today’s Gospel. In the weeks preceding his return to his hometown of Nazareth, the Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus has developed a widespread reputation for wisdom and authority. He has earned the trust of loyal disciples, exorcised demons, healed the sick, calmed a stormed and raised a child from the dead. He is a wonder. You’d have thought the good folks of his home town would roll out the red carpet and kill the fatted calf when he came walking into Nazareth. Before we get too carried away, Mark puts up a hand and tells us to hit the brakes.
Jesus arrives in the synagogue to speak that Saturday and only manages to get out a few words before we are told that the people are “astounded” by what he has to say. The Greek word that is used can also mean to shock or panic people. So, a good translation might be that the people who heard him speak were “scandalized” and they say, in effect” “Who does this Jesus think he is? We all know him. He’s the carpenter, Mary’ kid.” And Jesus responds with this grim diagnosis: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” Pretty sad.
Yet, here’s the truly sad thing about this story. Jesus hadn’t come to harm these people, or even to shock them, but to help them. He was there, in truth, to save them, to offer them the Good News of God. However, their suspicion and resentment diminished his ability to work any good on their behalf. And truly, you get the sense of how very disappointed he is in them, and they are in him. Verse five tells us: “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.” The folks of Jesus’s hometown were so certain that they knew the precise nature of Jesus, the son of Mary and Joseph, that they could not wrap their minds around the possibility of glimpsing the extraordinary within the ordinary. They could not conceive of a different narrative than the one with which they had grown up—and so they were blinded to the presence of God in their midst.
If you look closely at the Gospel passage for today, you will notice that it has two parts. In the first part, Jesus is rejected. In the second part, he sends out his disciples to carry on his work in his behalf. Which leads me to ask this question: Is rejection what we have to look forward to as well? Jesus’ answer: At times, yes. Live long enough, and you are bound to offend someone, if not with your words or deeds, than with your presence.
We’ve all had those moments. I have a colleague who encountered his own not so long ago. A fairly benign individual on Facebook with a large family, who possessed a lot of opinions—some more passionately expressive than others. He generally ignored them and liked the pictures of their children. However, after being besieged by increasingly polarizing posts for a few years, he decided to wade into the fray with a cousin with whom he did not see eye to eye. Being a pastoral sort of fellow, he thought long and hard about how to go about things. He didn’t go for the short and swift jab. Nope, he aimed for a long, thoughtful approach. He employed agreement in areas with which he and the cousin held mutual affinity and went on to offer what he believed were reasonable arguments for why he saw things differently. It did not go well. After a couple of posts the cousin responded that she refused to read any further posts from her cousin of differing opinions because she didn’t read things from people with whom she didn’t agree…it might confuse her. And it ended with an Aunt accusing my friend of being an overly educated elite who needed to watch a particular TV evangelist, one who “really” knew how to preach and get in touch with God. What can one say? He sent a smiley face emoji followed by a heart, because it’s hard to argue with that. “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”
At this present moment we are living in a culture in which people are ripe to be offended. Goodness, one doesn’t even have to use words to irritate others, an individual’s presence is enough. You may be gay or straight, black or white, Republican or Democrat, rich or poor, male or female, Catholic or Baptist, Muslim or Jewish, card carrying member of the NRA or a passionate gun control advocate, fat or thin, wear your hair natural, ironed and pressed straight or shaved bald. Rest assured, someone is bound to be offended. What is the remedy? Is it to hide inside with the doors locked; keep our heads down, eyes averted and our mouths shut? Should we refuse to shine the light that is in us or speak the truth that God has given us because we know that light and truth will rock the boat and lead to unrest? Is maintaining peace more important than being who God called you to be or speaking the truth that you believe is in you? And, what do you think your Savior would tell you if you asked him what you should do? Do you really think he’d tell you to hide your light under a bushel or would he tell you let it shine, shine, shine? In other words, far better to live your life out loud; risking the wrath of some people and being the person God created you to be and speaking the truth in love, rather than hiding your light and silencing the words God has given you to speak.
Here’s the lesson for today. Jesus knows how it feels to be rejected. What’s more, he tells us that if we are rejected when sharing the Good News of God, there’s no need to keep banging your head against a wall trying to convince someone you are right—particularly when they are determined not to hear a word you say or to see you for who you are. Move on. But if we move on, let’s not waste either time or emotional resources thinking that all is lost or that we have failed. What’s important is that we move on without rancor, resentment, animosity or malice, but with love and self-possession—like Jesus. If we manage to do this, we leave behind a message from God, one which bestows a benediction rather than a curse, an invitation for someone to see things differently, if not now, then in the future. Why do I think this is important? Well, because we are all children of God and members of one family, no matter where we might reside. And God’s hope, ultimately, is that we might all be saved, brought together in peace and unity, as one people in Christ. And that, if you think about it, is very good news indeed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(I am indebted to the writing and thoughts of The Rev. Bob Eldon “PreachingTip Proper 9 Year B on www.textweek.com from whom I gleaned much information for the writing of this sermon)