Mark 6:1-13 – The 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time â€“ for July 8, 2012
â€œâ€¦And they took offense at himâ€¦â€ (Mark 6:3)
In a couple of weeks Iâ€™ll preach at a church I served over twenty years ago. The congregation is between pastors and invited guest speakersâ€”including me, one of their â€œoldâ€ pastorsâ€”to cover Sundays during the transition.
Itâ€™ll be a â€œWelcome home, Larry!â€ time.
Which makes me nervous. After all, Iâ€™ve read what happened to Jesus when he ventured back into his old neighborhood. The Nazarene returned to Nazareth and Welcome home, Jesus! quickly twisted into a Get outta town now! demand.
Matthew, Mark and Luke all described Jesusâ€™ homecoming. In Matthew Jesus said a few choice words in the synagogue, irked his erstwhile neighbors and vamoosed. Mark, probably the first to write a version about Jesusâ€™ visit, also showed Jesusâ€™ failure at wowing his fellow Nazarenes. Luke depicted a sour reception, but pushed it a few awful steps further since Jesus’ boyhood chums attempted to hurl him off a cliff.
Welcome home, Jesus!
All three Gospels reported he did little or no â€œdeeds of power.â€ Which is to say, most fellow Nazarenes that were ill remained ill even after he laid hands on them. If elsewhere heâ€™d healed wary lepers and vulnerable children and even his disciple Peterâ€™s mother-in-law, in the village where he mightâ€™ve known most by name, his healing hands were as successful as a carpenter building a house without nails.
Why did Jesus fail . . . or at least falter? Jealousy? Resentment? Doubt? Did his neighborsâ€™ attitudes erode an openness to trust the one â€œoutsidersâ€ revered as prophet, healer and preacher?
Familiarity dulls our senses.
Iâ€™ll be chatting with my wife and realize I donâ€™t know what she just said. Had she been talking about a studentâ€™s reaction to her class at the university? (Iâ€™ve heard many variations of those stories before.) Or did she relate the most recent cuteness of our cute cat Jynx? (In the fourteen years weâ€™ve been owned by Jynx, sheâ€™s had thousands of precious moments.)
And so I nod my head, barely hearing a single word about insightful students or feline shenanigans.
Yosemite Valley is only a few driving hours from Fresno. There, Iâ€™ve climbed Half Dome, was married in the chapel, witnessed a moonbow over Yosemite Falls and have jogged alongside a pack of coyotes. And yet often, when I take visitors to show them Yosemiteâ€™s granite glory and watery wonders, Iâ€™ll be thinking . . . should I mow the lawn tomorrow or do we have enough coffee to last through the weekend?
Familiarity breeds banality.
How often have I preached since ordination thirty-five years ago? Probably thousands of times! Iâ€™ve served bustling city parishes, isolated country congregations and even helped start a new church.
Regardless of the setting, I often went through an interesting process from the first stages of study on a Monday to the actual preached word on Sunday. Early in the week, Iâ€™d frequently wonder, â€œWhat can I proclaim to challenge these folks, to confront them with the power of Jesusâ€™ message of loving and serving neighbor?â€ That question would usually be accompanied by, â€œHow can I be vulnerable and transparent so the folks in the pews will see my struggle to honor Jesusâ€™ ministry?â€
But Sunday loomed, and I so wanted to be liked by the nice folks in the pew, and did I really need to share a controversial story or a scriptural interpretation that might upset them?
Sometimes I boldly did and sometimes . . . not!
What if, gulp, they didnâ€™t come back next Sunday? What if they didnâ€™t like me? Or, thereâ€™s this convenient rationalization:Â itâ€™s presumptuous of me, a weak-willed, flawed human to tell other weak-willed, flawed humans how to act.
On too many Sundays, Mondayâ€™s stern, invigorating questions were abandoned, compromised, softened.
â€œThey took offense at him,â€ Markâ€™s Gospel said about Jesusâ€™ neighbors.
Why were they offended? The easiest answer is the hardest truth. Jesus never compromised the words he shared.
And yet arenâ€™t there good reasons to cautiously proclaim our beliefs?
Last week, at the hospice where I work, I comforted a fellow employee whoâ€™d recently experienced a friendâ€™s tragic death. She thanked me for my kindness and then shared her views about Godâ€™s response to this tragedy. To protect confidentiality, I wonâ€™t be specific with her comments, but I strongly disagreed with them. Indeed, they contradicted my core beliefs about the Creatorâ€™s relationship with creation.
Should I have told her sheâ€™s wrong? I didnâ€™t; I couldnâ€™t. But wasnâ€™t I abandoning, compromising and softening my heartfelt faith?
There are no easy answers. All I know is that Iâ€™m weak-willed, flawed and still learning.