Welcome Home, Jesus!

Mark 6:1-13 – The 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for July 8, 2012

“…And they took offense at him…” (Mark 6:3)

In a couple of weeks I’ll preach at a church I served over twenty years ago. The congregation is between pastors and invited guest speakers—including me, one of their “old” pastors—to cover Sundays during the transition.

It’ll be a “Welcome home, Larry!” time.

And yet often, when I take visitors to show them Yosemite’s granite glory and watery wonders, I’ll be thinking . . .

Which makes me nervous. After all, I’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 Jesus’ 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 Jesus’ visit, also showed Jesus’ 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 “deeds of power.” Which is to say, most fellow Nazarenes that were ill remained ill even after he laid hands on them. If elsewhere he’d healed wary lepers and vulnerable children and even his disciple Peter’s mother-in-law, in the village where he might’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 neighbors’ attitudes erode an openness to trust the one “outsiders” revered as prophet, healer and preacher?

Familiarity dulls our senses.

I’ll be chatting with my wife and realize I don’t know what she just said. Had she been talking about a student’s reaction to her class at the university? (I’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 we’ve been owned by Jynx, she’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, I’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 Yosemite’s granite glory and watery wonders, I’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! I’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, I’d frequently wonder, “What can I proclaim to challenge these folks, to confront them with the power of Jesus’ message of loving and serving neighbor?” That question would usually be accompanied by, “How can I be vulnerable and transparent so the folks in the pews will see my struggle to honor Jesus’ ministry?”

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 didn’t come back next Sunday? What if they didn’t like me? Or, there’s this convenient rationalization:  it’s presumptuous of me, a weak-willed, flawed human to tell other weak-willed, flawed humans how to act.

On too many Sundays, Monday’s stern, invigorating questions were abandoned, compromised, softened.

“They took offense at him,” Mark’s Gospel said about Jesus’ neighbors.

Why were they offended? The easiest answer is the hardest truth. Jesus never compromised the words he shared.

And yet aren’t there good reasons to cautiously proclaim our beliefs?

Last week, at the hospice where I work, I comforted a fellow employee who’d recently experienced a friend’s tragic death. She thanked me for my kindness and then shared her views about God’s response to this tragedy. To protect confidentiality, I won’t be specific with her comments, but I strongly disagreed with them. Indeed, they contradicted my core beliefs about the Creator’s relationship with creation.

Should I have told her she’s wrong? I didn’t; I couldn’t. But wasn’t I abandoning, compromising and softening my heartfelt faith?

Yes. No.

There are no easy answers. All I know is that I’m weak-willed, flawed and still learning.

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  1. I vividly recall teaching the episode of which you speak in Luke Chapter 4, about four years ago, long before I had my current expensive book learning (I refuse to misspell that for effect.) and imprimiteur from the Moravian Theological Seminary. It took me at least three days to understand the source of the Nazarene’s ire, based on the content of the two stories about treating “outsiders”. But that did not clear up the whole story.

    For one thing, why did Jesus choose to tell those stories to an audience which one could expect would be offended by them. For another, how did Jesus escape the lynch mob? The second question might be satisfactorily answered by a parallel to Obi Wan Kenobi’s using the Force to cloud the minds of the Imperial troops looking for the two droids. But why be so provocative?

    I fall back on the thought that what is important here is not the reaction of the Nazarenes, but the reaction of Luke’s audience, possibly in Antioch, after the fall of the temple. Perhaps Luke is demonstrating that the reactions of the Nazarenes was wrong. Perhaps it was a subtle anti-Jewish message. I simply don’t know.

    But, it’s a great story to make one realize that understanding the Bible requires thought, and one story can often have more than one message.

    1. Good questions, Bruce. Without a doubt, it’s important to ask, whether you’re Luke, or today’s preacher or writer, who is my audience?

      One of the reasons I enjoy (and squirm about) this scene is how “comfortable” the author of Luke (and the other Gospel writers) can be about the tension Jesus created, even with people who supposedly knew him best.

      Thanks for your comments.

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